ED Basics

Is Erectile Dysfunction Reversible?

January 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by

David Culpepper, MD

It’s estimated that 30 million men experience erectile dysfunction in the United States alone.

And when it comes to treating ED, there are plenty of good options. While popular medications like Viagra® and Cialis® are highly effective at treating the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, they're ultimately not a permanent cure.

But don’t give up hope: ED meds work well for most guys, they're generally safe to use over long periods of time, and there are quite a few ways that you can work to reverse the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction at the same time.   

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is the clinical term for when a man has difficulty either achieving or sustaining an erection that's firm enough for sex. While it’s perfectly normal for the occasional erectile issue to happen, an erectile dysfunction diagnosis occurs when this difficulty becomes the norm.

Erections are the result of a fairly complicated chemical chain reaction in the body. When a guy encounters physical or psychological sexual stimulation, he becomes aroused. Once this happens, the brain will release various chemical substances and neurotransmitters that begin to dilate blood vessels and relax smooth muscles in the penis. This results in an increase of blood flow into the penis and a decrease in blood flow leaving the penis. Once enough blood has been trapped in the penis, an erection is created. 

Any issues or complications during this process can result in erectile dysfunction. 

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction? 

When it comes to treating erectile dysfunction, the first step is to determine the root cause. Unfortunately, there is no single direct cause of erectile dysfunction, nor a test that can determine if you have it. However, it’s possible to eliminate some of the potential causes and narrow down the list of culprits. 

While we don’t know the exact cause of erectile dysfunction, plenty of risk factors have a strong connection to developing ED, many of which are related to cardiovascular or metabolic function.

Some of the most common include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Anxiety
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Kidney disease
  • Low testosterone
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peyronie’s disease
  • Radiation therapy
  • Side effect of medication
  • Spine or pelvis injury
  • Stress
  • Tobacco use

Is It Possible To Reverse Erectile Dysfunction? 

The answer to this question can be a little tricky. Yes, ED is reversible if the cause is clear, but the root cause is not always determinable.

In the event that you treat or cure the issue causing your ED, erectile dysfunction can go away. For example, if erectile dysfunction is a side effect of taking a prescription medication, then switching medications may eliminate the erection difficulties. If ED is the result of poor cardiovascular health and blood flow, losing weight and improving heart strength with exercise and diet can help. 

It might not always be that simple, and while not all cases will be reversible, many can be treated properly. 

In one study of ED, medical data from 810 men was collected over a period of five years. These men used lifestyle changes to address their ED. Of these men, 31 percent experienced some form of erectile dysfunction. With treatment the remission rate was a remarkable 29 percent, indicating that with proper effort erectile dysfunction can be a temporary issue. ED is treatable and reversible for many men. 

How Can You Reverse Erectile Dysfunction?

By making some of the following lifestyle changes, you may be able to reduce the frequency and severity of erectile dysfunction even if you're unable to outright eliminate it. ED is frequently caused by underlying issues like diabetes and being overweight, and it's common for men to report that as they work to address these issues, their ED symptoms improve as well

And there are still great ways to manage symptoms if they do recur, like popular prescription ED medications.

Getting More Exercise 

Physical exercise is beneficial for just about all of the systems of your body, including sexual function. Exercise is so important, there's really no right or wrong style of exercise to pursue!

Since blood flow is so important to erections, any exercise that strengthens or improves the cardiovascular system can help to reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Even something as simple as a daily walk is enough to help maintain cardiovascular function. Getting at least 160 minutes of weekly exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction that are caused by issues related to blood flow.  

Stress Management 

Stress can lead to a variety of health issues, erectile dysfunction among them. When you experience stress, your body releases the hormone cortisol. This chemical messenger travels throughout your body acting as an alarm and activating the “fight or flight” response. One of the effects of increased cortisol in the bloodstream is a corresponding decrease in testosterone, which may also contribute to difficulties with erections. 

Change Your Medications 

You should always continue to take the medications that your doctor has prescribed to you; however, in the event that your medications are causing erectile dysfunction, talk with your doctor about alternative options. 

If you're currently taking any of the following medications, check the label and see if erectile dysfunction is listed as a possible side effect: 

  • Antidepressants
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Heart medications
  • Hormone drugs

Lose Weight 

Not only is obesity a major risk factor for high blood pressure and diabetes, it can also lead to erectile dysfunction. By maintaining a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or lower, according to one study, you can reduce your odds of experiencing erectile dysfunction. Men with a BMI ranging between 25 and 30, indicating overweight, are 1.5 times as likely to develop erectile dysfunction. For men with a BMI of 30 or more, indicating obesity, the chances are increased to 3x the norm.

Eating a Healthy Diet 

Your diet has a significant impact on overall health and might be contributing to erectile dysfunction. For example, fatty foods can lead to high cholesterol, salty foods can lead to high blood pressure, and sugary foods can lead to type 2 diabetes. By cutting back on these foods, as well as increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you can reduce the odds of developing erectile dysfunction.  

Get Rid of Bad Habits 

It’s common knowledge that smoking is an unhealthy habit. What might not be as well known is that smoking is the leading cause of erectile dysfunction in men under the age of 40. Not only do the chemicals and smoke in cigarettes damage the heart and lungs, nicotine leads to constriction of the blood vessels and negatively impacts blood flow. 

With alcohol, one or two drinks infrequently typically won’t result in problems, but frequently drinking to excess can result in ED. Over time, heavy alcohol consumption can damage the liver and lead to an increase in estrogen production, which can actually lower testosterone levels. Chronic alcoholism also contributes to nerve damage, leading to reduced sensitivity and poor signalling. Ultimately, the damage can make it harder to "get hard."

Pelvic Floor Exercises 

There are loads of muscles located in your pelvis that are related to erectile function. By working and strengthening them regularly, you may be able to better control your erections. 

Performing Kegel exercises is relatively simple and can be completed lying down, sitting, standing, or even while walking: 

  1. Finding the correct muscles isn't hard, but most people don't know where they are without some investigation. The easiest way to find your pelvic floor muscles is to attempt to cut off your urination midstream. That feeling is your pelvic floor muscles contracting.
  2. When you've identified the right muscles, tighten and hold them for three to five seconds. 
  3. Release and relax the muscles for three to five seconds. 
  4. Repeat this process 10 to 20 times for one set.
  5. Perform two to three sets of these exercises daily.

Get Quality Sleep 

Perhaps easier said than done, getting more sleep and higher quality sleep can do a lot to improve sexual function. During sleep, your body will rest and repair itself in addition to dictating certain hormonal secretions. These hormones can go one of two ways: during higher quality and deeper sleep, particular hormones can be converted into testosteroneHowever, sleep deprivation or low quality sleep can result in these hormones being converted into the stress hormone cortisol.

If you have trouble getting enough sleep or staying asleep for sufficient periods, it could be due to obstructive sleep apnea. This common sleep disorder is also often connected to obesity and erectile dysfunction, making for a mish-mash of comorbidities.

The Takeaway

It can be difficult to identify a root cause of erectile dysfunction, but if you're able to pinpoint an underlying condition, you may be able to treat and reverse ED. Many men report that as they lose weight and address cardiovascular or metabolic conditions, like diabetes, the strength of their erections improves. Consider the lifestyle changes above to treat ED naturally.

Reversing ED with lifestyle changes can work for many guys, but it isn't always enough. If you're unsure what might be causing your erectile dysfunction, a doctor can help.

Rex MD helps guys get prescription ED meds online with the help of a licensed clinician, if appropriate. The process is simple, the consultation is free, and it's all done online. 

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SOURCES 

(ED) Symptoms & Causes of Erectile Dysfunction | NIDDK

Association of Diet With Erectile Dysfunction Among Men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study

The association of testosterone, sleep, and sexual function in men and women

Stress management and erectile dysfunction: a pilot comparative study.

Erectile dysfunction in obstructive sleep apnea patients: A randomized trial on the effects of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Effects of cigarette smoking on erectile dysfunction

[Obesity--significant risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men]

Common prescription medication use and erectile dysfunction. Results from the Boston Area Community Health (BACH) Survey

Erectile dysfunction can be reversed without medication

Kegel Exercises | NIDDK

Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) | NIDDK

The role of estradiol in male reproductive function