Erectile dysfunction is often treatable, but many men hesitate to discuss it with their doctor.
What's more, doctors don't often bring it up with their patients, according to Dr Susan MacDonald, a urological surgeon at Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center.
"I think it's because of the stigma attached to it," she said.
When she asks men about whether they can maintain an erection, most say they can – until she asks if they would like their erection to be better.
"Maybe you can get an erection, but you can't keep it or it's not fully rigid," MacDonald said in a Penn State Health news release. "That's erectile dysfunction, and I can help you," she tells them.
Erectile dysfunction may not be life-threatening, but it can affect a man's quality of life, she said.
"It's not something people talk about over dinner," MacDonald said. "But it is exceedingly common, so just bring it up to your doctor."
The simplest treatments are medications such as Levitra, Viagra and Cialis, she said.
MacDonald noted that men taking nitroglycerin for heart problems cannot take these pills. In addition, health insurance may not cover the drugs.
But other options exist, too. Men can try an injectable medication, or an external vacuum pump, she said. There's also an intra-urethral suppository that dissolves and creates an erection, MacDonald said.
A penile implant includes a pump in the scrotum so men can control their erections.
"That's a really great option for a lot of people because it provides spontaneity and is typically covered by insurance," MacDonald said. "A lot of it is patient preference."
A frank discussion
Although erectile dysfunction occurs mostly in older men, it can happen in younger men. And it may be a sign of early heart disease, she said.
Men shouldn't be afraid of having a frank discussion with their primary care doctor, MacDonald said.
"That's the biggest thing in terms of overall men's health," she said. "Getting them in the door."
MacDonald also suggests bringing your partner along for the meeting.
"It's good to sit down as a couple and make the decisions together," she said.
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