What can cause erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be caused by many different things, including:
  • getting older

  • being tired

  • being anxious or depressed

  • drinking too much alcohol

  • being overweight

  • some cancer treatments

  • other health conditions.

Read more about each of these possible causes below. Always talk to your GP or a pharmacist about your own situation and what may be causing your ED.

Getting older

Having erection problems can happen naturally as you get older, or if you have other health conditions such as diabetes or if you’re overweight[13]. ED is very common in men over 40[1,2].

Talk to your GP if you’re having problems getting or keeping an erection. They will be able to talk to you about the different treatment options available. You could also go to a sexual health clinic for information and support. Find out where your nearest sexual health clinic is.

If you’re under the age of 40 and have ED, you may have some different concerns about how ED will affect you, including whether ED will affect your fertility. Read more about ED in younger men.

Being tired

Being tired or having fatigue (extreme tiredness) may cause erection problems[1].

Talk to your GP if you’re very tired a lot of the time. They might be able to do some tests to find out the cause of your tiredness. If you’re able to reduce your tiredness and increase your energy levels, this may then help increase your libido (desire for sex) and improve your erection problems.

Eating a well balanced diet and exercising regularly can also help if you’re feeling very tired[3]. Read more about tiredness and fatigue on the NHS website.

Being anxious or depressed

Feeling anxious or depressed can reduce your libido and cause erection problems[1]. 

Most people feel down from time to time, but if you’re feeling very down most of the time, you may be depressed. Speak to your GP about how you’re feeling, they will be able to talk to you about what treatment and support is available.

If you’re diagnosed with clinical depression, or if you have anxiety, your GP may prescribe you with some medicine to take.

Erection problems in men are a reported side effect of taking some types of antidepressants. These types of antidepressants are serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)[14]. Find out more about antidepressants on the NHS website.

Some people also find that talking to a professional about how you feel can be helpful. Ask your GP if they can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor. Or you can refer yourself for counselling through the NHS. Psychologists and counsellors are professionals who are trained to listen.

Read more about anxiety and depression.

Drinking alcohol

Alcohol and recreational drugs can make you more likely to have erection problems[1,4]. Try to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. National guidelines say not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, which is about six pints of beer a week[5]. Read more about how to cut down the amount of alcohol you drink.

Being overweight

You may be more likely to have erection problems if you’re overweight[1]. Try to eat a well balanced diet and do regular exercise. Always talk to your GP before you start a new diet or exercise routine. Read more about diet and exercise.

Some cancer treatments

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer including prostate, bladder or testicular cancer, your cancer treatment may cause erection problems. Read more about cancer treatment and erectile dysfunction.

Other health conditions

If you’ve had heart problems, there is some evidence to show that you’re at an increased risk of having ED[6,7]. There is also research to show that if you have ED, you’re at an increased risk of having heart problems[8].

Men who have been diagnosed with diabetes are also more likely to experience erection problems than people who don’t have diabetes[9].

Other health conditions that may cause erection problems include:

  • multiple sclerosis (MS)[10]

  • high blood pressure or medicine for high blood pressure[11]

  • high cholesterol[1]

  • low testosterone[1]

  • Parkinson’s disease[12].

Talk to your GP if you have any of these conditions and you’re experiencing ED. If you have ED, there is treatment and support available that can help.

Published

July 2021

Next review

July 2022

Reviewed by

Gill Stone MRPharmS

"

We are trained to support you and your health needs. We help our customers with a wide variety of health concerns and queries every day.

Gill Stone - MRPharmS

Where can I get further support and information?
As well as talking to your GP for information and support, there are also a number of organisations and charities offering support and information.

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Further reading on erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction: How to help your partner

Find information and support on how to help your partner if they problems with erectile dysfunction.

How to treat erectile dysfunction

Find out about some of the common erectile dysfunction treatment options here and ways to treat it.

Cancer treatment & erectile dysfunction

We provide information and support for people undergoing cancer treatment and its relation to erectile dysfunction. Find out more here.

References

  1. 1.

    Erectile dysfunction (impotence). nhs.uk | Published November 13, 2017 | Accessed September 4, 2020.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/erection-problems-erectile-dysfunction
  2. 2.

    Mulhall JP, Luo X, Zou KH, Stecher V, Galaznik A | Relationship between age and erectile dysfunction diagnosis or treatment using real-world observational data in the United States | Int J Clin Pract | 2016;70(12):1012-1018 | doi:10.1111/ijcp.12908.

  3. 3.

    Sleep and tiredness. nhs.uk. | Published April 26, 2018 | Accessed September 4, 2020.

    https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness
  4. 4.

    Dachille G, Lamuraglia M, Leone M, et al | Erectile dysfunction and alcohol intake | Urol J. Published online January 22, 2018 | doi:10.1177/039156030807500305.

  5. 5.

    Drinkaware Home | Accessed September 4, 2020.

    https://www.drinkaware.co.uk
  6. 6.

    Raheem OA, Su JJ, Wilson JR, Hsieh T-C | The Association of Erectile Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Critical Review | Am J Mens Health | 2017;11(3):552-563 | doi:10.1177/1557988316630305.

  7. 7.

    Hackett G, Kirby M, Wylie K, et al | British Society for Sexual Medicine Guidelines on the Management of Erectile Dysfunction in Men—2017 | J Sex Med | 2018;15(4):430-457 | doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.01.023.

  8. 8.

    Dong J-Y, Zhang Y-H, Qin L-Q | Erectile Dysfunction and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease | J Am Coll Cardiol | 2011;58(13):1378-1385 | doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2011.06.024.

  9. 9.

    Diabetes and sexual problems – in men | Diabetes UK | Accessed September 4, 2020.

    https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications/sexual-problems-men
  10. 10.

    Erectile dysfunction | MS Trust | Accessed September 4, 2020.

    https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/erectile-dysfunction
  11. 11.

    Wang X, Huang W, Zhang Y | Relation between hypertension and erectile dysfunction: a meta-analysis of cross-section studies | Int J Impot Res | 2018;30(3):141-146 | doi:10.1038/s41443-018-0020-z.

  12. 12.

    Zhao S, Wang J, Xie Q, et al | Parkinson’s Disease Is Associated with Risk of Sexual Dysfunction in Men but Not in Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Sex Med | 2019;16(3):434-446 | doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.12.017.

  13. 13.

    Erectile Dysfunction | Accessed September 24, 2020.

    https://www.baus.org.uk/professionals/sections/erectile_dysfunction.aspx
  14. 14.

    Overview - Antidepressants. nhs.uk. Published February 5, 2021. Accessed March 24, 2021.

    https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/medicines-and-psychiatry/antidepressants/overview/