Ask the Expert

Answered By:


Jeanne O'Brien, MD

Q:

My husband is having trouble with sex. He can't have an erection. This has never happened before. Can I do anything to help him?

A: 

You sure can! You can make an appointment for him with his health care professional. Numerous medical conditions are associated with erectile dysfunction—the medical term for not being able to have or sustain an erection—including urinary problems like benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), heart disease or problems with blood vessel function, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and stroke. One of the most common conditions associated with erectile dysfunction is atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque on coronary and other arteries throughout the body that disrupts blood flow. More than two-thirds of men with coronary artery disease, also known as "clogged arteries," had erection problems before their condition was diagnosed.

One clue that the condition is psychological, not medical, is if your husband still gets erections during sleep and in the morning. If so, then there is likely some kind of psychological issue, perhaps due to stress. Workplace issues, concerns about money and the economy and relationship issues are common sources of stress. For psychological erectile dysfunction, a sexual therapist can be quite helpful to couples.

Smoking can also affect erections, as can certain medications, including antidepressants, antihypertensive drugs and tranquilizers.

As you may know, there are medications on the market that can be used to treat erectile dysfunction. Before jumping to drugs, however, make sure your husband has had a thorough physical examination. The physical exam should also include a hormonal evaluation, which may indicate low testosterone levels.