Erection Problems: Care Instructions

Skip Navigation


An erection problem means that you routinely can't get or keep an erection that allows satisfactory sex. You may not be able to have an erection at any time. Or you may not be able to have one that is firm enough or lasts long enough to complete intercourse. The problem is also called erectile dysfunction (ED).

It's not the same as having trouble getting an erection now and then. That's common.

Erection problems can be caused by problems with the blood vessels, nerves, or hormones. They can be caused by diabetes, heart disease, and injuries. Nerve problems also can cause them.

Medicines, alcohol, and tobacco also can cause problems. So can depression, stress, grief, and relationship problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • Limit alcohol. Have no more than 2 drinks a day.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking makes it harder for the blood vessels in the penis to relax and let blood flow in. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not use cocaine, heroin, or other illegal drugs.
  • Try to reduce stress.
  • Give yourself time to adjust to change. Changes in your job, family, relationships, home life, and other areas can cause stress. And stress can cause erection problems.

Work with your partner

  • Talk with your partner about what time of day works best for having sex. Mornings may be a good time since you are both rested. Also, some medicines that help with erections need to be taken on an empty stomach.
  • If either of you are too tired or have a lot on your mind, wait until another time to have sex.
  • Ask what your partner likes when it comes to sex. Talk about what each of you does and does not enjoy.
  • Make time outside of the bedroom to talk about your sex life. If you avoid sex because you are afraid of having erection problems, your partner may worry that you are no longer interested.
  • If you and your partner have trouble talking about sex, see a therapist. They may help you talk about it. Reading books with your partner about sexual health may also help.
  • Relax. Take time for more foreplay. Worrying about your erections may only make things worse.


  • Tell your doctor about all the medicines that you take.
    • Some medicines can cause erection problems.
    • Some medicines can have dangerous interactions with medicines that are prescribed for erection problems. These include over-the-counter medicines and herbal products.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor about trying a medicine to help you keep an erection. This could be a medicine like sildenafil (such as Viagra), tadalafil (such as Cialis), or vardenafil (such as Levitra). If you have a heart problem, ask your doctor if these are safe for you. Do not take these medicines if you take nitroglycerin or other nitrate medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You took a medicine for erection problems and you have an erection that lasts longer than 3 hours.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter J531 in the search box to learn more about "Erection Problems: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.