Treating impotence

Impotence occurs when a man has problems getting or keeping an erection. Also known as erectile dysfunction, this problem will affect around one in ten men at some stage in their life, with problems becoming more likely in later life due to deterioration in circulation and other body systems.

It is important to distinguish between occasional impotence – caused by tiredness, over indulgence, or stress – which is experienced by most men from time to time and is generally nothing to worry about, and regular problems with achieving an erection, which will require treatment or therapy.

This article on male impotence is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.


Contrary to popular belief, impotence is not all in the mind. Up to 70% of cases have at least some physical cause, and these can be wide ranging, including:

  • Diabetes
  • M.S. or Parkinsons Disease
  • Pelvic surgery
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Kidney disorders
  • Angina, high blood pressure or poor circulation
  • Smoking, alcohol, or drug use
  • Certain prescribed drugs
  • Prostate cancer

However, psychological factors also play a major part. Stress at work, worries about performance, relationship problems, sexual issues and indeed concern about impotence itself, can all cause or exacerbate the problem.

In most cases, there is a combination of both physical and psychological causes for impotence, and thus any treatment must involve both aspects.


The first stage in your treatment is talking to your partner. It’s vital they understand so they’re able to help. Otherwise, they may inadvertently put you under pressure to perform and make the problem worse. Talking about any sexual issues may be all that’s needed to restore your confidence and solve the problem.

The next step is to visit your GP. With modern medical advances, over 90% of impotence can now be cured or greatly improved, so it’s well worth setting aside any embarrassment. GPs and other health professionals are used to dealing with such matters and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Remember, this happens to around one in ten men.

Your GP will do some basic tests, such as reflexes – to test your nervous system, and blood tests - to check hormone levels and blood sugars. They may also examine your penis and scrotum. Your GP can also check your prescribed medication and change it if it may be a factor.

Your GP may suggest counselling for you and your partner, or recommend lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol or losing weight. They may also provide some stress management advice to help you to relax. Again, this may be all that is required.

If the problem persists, there is a range of treatments available. Your GP may be able to prescribe these directly, or may refer you to a sexual health specialist for a more in-depth assessment. Common treatments for impotence include:

  • Tablets taken before sex. These range from Viagra, which lasts between 3 and 4 hours, to Cialis, which can be effective for up to 36 hours. These work by widening the blood vessels feeding the penis to allow more blood in. It should be noted that these are not aphrodisiacs so stimulation will still be required.
  • Medication which is rubbed in, injected, or inserted directly into the penis. These include drugs such as Alprostadil and Papaverine, which are absorbed directly into the erectile tissue. These work in the same way as tablets by widening the blood vessels.
  • Hormone treatments. If you have a low testosterone level, you may need hormone replacement tablets or injections. These should only be taken under strict supervision as excessive testosterone can have harmful effects on the body and mind.
  • Surgical treatments. A few rare physical causes of impotence can be cured by surgery to the blood vessels.
  • Penis implants. These involve the insertion of support structures into the penis, either as a permanent fixture or operated via a small pump in the scrotum. This solution should only be used as a last resort when all other avenues have been explored.


Impotence is a very common problem and no longer carries the stigma that it perhaps has in the past. For most men, there is a range of simple solutions available, and GPs are very open and understanding about the condition. There is no need to suffer in silence and no point in letting it affect your relationship.

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