Erectile dysfunction normally develops over time, but in some men it can develop suddenly. What causes sudden erectile dysfunction and what can be done about it? Find out in this article.
Last Updated: 12/13/2022
Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or maintain an erection that lasts long enough for sex, usually develops gradually over time. However, in some men, erectile dysfunction develops more suddenly. This can be especially frustrating and impact your sex life and mental health.
What causes sudden erectile dysfunction and what can be done about it? Let’s take a look.
Before we address the causes of erectile dysfunction that appears suddenly, let’s take a look at what happens when you get a healthy erection.
To get an erection a man must be stimulated both mentally and physically. At this point, nerve messages are sent to the penis, which has a shaft composed of two chambers called the corpora cavernosa.
When a man is sexually aroused, signals from the brain and nerves surrounding the penis cause blood vessels of the corpora cavernosa to relax, widen, and fill with blood. This flow of blood into the vessels of the corpora cavernosa of the penis leads to healthy erectile function during sex and allows a man to have and keep an erection.
When blood flow to the penis is blocked due to the buildup of plaque or constricted vessels, erectile dysfunction can occur. Reduced blood flow to the penis is the primary cause of most erectile dysfunction and it develops over time. This reduced blood flow and ensuing erectile dysfunction is often a red flag that a man’s cardiovascular system isn’t working properly and can be one of the first signs of heart disease.
The reduced blood flow to the penis leads to a number of symptoms of erectile dysfunction. These symptoms include:
Trouble getting an erection
An erection that doesn’t stay firm enough for sex
These problems may occur sometimes, or they might happen every time you try to have sex. The symptoms become more frequent as men get older, when getting or maintaining an erection may become more difficult.
Sudden erectile dysfunction where there is a fast onset of symptoms often results from different factors than erection problems that develop over the long term.
In many cases, the explanation for a sudden sexual problem may be more obvious, such as just starting certain medications linked to erectile dysfunction. Other times, you may need to talk to your doctor to help find the explanation for why you suddenly have a problem getting an erection during sex. Your doctor also can prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Here are the most common reasons – both mental and physical – for many cases of sudden sexual dysfunction.
Since nerves play a role in a healthy erection, damaged nerves make it difficult to get or keep an erection during sex. When a man has prostate cancer, surgeons will usually perform a prostatectomy, or removal of the prostate. This type of surgery may be “nerve sparing,” where the surgeon avoids cutting erection-controlling nerves near the prostate. This is less likely to lead to erectile dysfunction.
However, if the tumor is too close to the nerves, damaging the nerves may be unavoidable, which can cause ED.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a year after nerve-sparing prostatectomy, about 40% to 50% of men return to normal pre-surgery erectile function. Two years after surgical treatment, roughly 30% to 60% will have regained their normal sexual performance.
The recovery rate after surgery may vary depending upon the surgeon and how much of the nerves are spared during surgical treatment.
Conditions like spinal cord injury and diabetes may also cause nerve damage that affects the ability to get or keep an erection. It’s estimated that about half of men with type 2 diabetes will develop erectile dysfunction within five to 10 years of their diabetes diagnosis (Boston University School of Medicine).
Many times, the ED associated with diabetes develops over the long-term, but it can seem sudden if you don’t know you have diabetes and if nerve damage has become severe.
Use of the diabetes drug metformin is one reason men with diabetes may develop ED. Metformin may affect the ability to get and keep an erection as this drug is linked to erectile dysfunction via its ability to cause low testosterone levels.
Multiple sclerosis is another disease associated with a problem having erections. Fifty to 90% of men with multiple sclerosis have sexual dysfunction, including problems getting or maintaining an erection.(Cleveland Clinic) This is likely due to the nerve damage that occurs in this disease.
One other physical reason for ED is the development of a prostate problem other than those linked to prostate cancer. Erection problems are common in a prostate disease known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate or BPH). Often this is due to medications that cause low testosterone such as Finasteride (Proscar). \
Some men who experience BPH symptoms such as intense urges to urinate, urinating often, inability to empty the bladder, and a weak urine stream, opt for a surgical treatment called transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). Five to 10% of men who undergo this surgery develop erectile dysfunction.
Although penile trauma is rare, the penis may be injured by a number of physical factors, including:
These injuries to the penis can bring on sudden erection problems.
Pelvic fractures or pelvic fracture urethral injury is also associated with sudden erectile dysfunction due to damage to nerves, blood vessels, or injury to the tunica albuginea (tissue that surrounds the corpora cavernosa of the penis), leading to fibrosis or venous leakage, where not enough blood stays in the penile vessels to maintain an erection during sex.
The most common causes of pelvic fractures are:
High-speed automobile or motorcycle accidents
Falls from great heights
Mild pelvic fractures can happen while jogging, due to the impact on the body, or after mild falls in people with weak bones.
Certain medications such as those used for high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression are a common cause of problems with sexual health. Men who started taking any new prescription medications before sudden erectile dysfunction developed should talk to their doctor to see if the medication could be the reason.
Many prescription medications are a common cause of erectile dysfunction. These medications include:
Anti-testosterone drugs for BPH: finasteride (Proscar)
High blood pressure medications
Parkinson’s disease medicines
Painkillers such as opioids
Metformin, a medication to treat diabetes
Beta blockers and diuretics are the most likely of the high blood pressure medications to cause erectile dysfunction, although other blood pressure drugs may be to blame for ED.
Physical injury or infection of the testicles may cause low testosterone levels, which may impact men’s health and cause a sudden sexual problem. These low levels of testosterone may appear suddenly and lead to ED that develops over a short time.
In many men, one of the psychological reasons why ED may appear virtually overnight is stress. Men who suddenly find themselves under a lot of pressure at work or at home can have problems with their sexual health. Both the sex life and mental health of a man under constant stress can suffer.
Men who are suddenly working long hours or participating in energy-draining activities – for example, taking care of an elderly relative – could experience problems with their sexual health and be too tired to have sex.
Men who have fatigue that doesn’t seem to have an obvious cause can seek medical advice and get a full check-up.
Having a drink from time to time won’t hurt a man’s sexual health. However, if you’ve recently started drinking a lot of alcohol, it could be one reason for your sudden erectile dysfunction.
Men who have recently started using illicit drugs like cocaine or recreational drugs like marijuana also may find that getting or maintaining an erection is suddenly difficult.
A psychological cause of ED that appears suddenly involves problems in your relationship with your partner. Relationship issues are a common cause of problems with sexual health. A heated argument may result in sudden erectile dysfunction as a man thinks about the hurtful words his partner may have said.
Low self-esteem or even starting a new relationship can bring on sudden erectile dysfunction caused by sexual performance anxiety. This is another psychological cause of sudden ED.
Men whose erectile dysfunction develops suddenly may be able to cure the problem by turning to a number of common treatments. These will depend upon whether the exact cause is physical or psychological. These solutions for better sex include addressing the physical or mental health causes of erectile dysfunction or implementing lifestyle changes.
Seek medical advice to determine the potential causes of sudden sexual dysfunction. In many cases of sudden erectile dysfunction caused by medications, your healthcare practitioner may recommend a reduced dosage of the drug or switch to another medication or treatment.
Your doctor can also order tests to determine if health concerns, such as diabetes, may be the cause of your problem.
If a doctor determines that the cause of sudden erectile dysfunction may be related more to a man’s psychological state and mental health rather than physical, they might recommend making an appointment for therapy with a professional counselor.
Men who recently developed erectile dysfunction due to issues in their relationship can talk to their partner and address any issues that may interfere with sex.
Visiting a couples’ counselor together with your partner for therapy sessions may also be an effective treatment and improve psychological health.
Men’s health can improve by implementing several changes that often serve as an effective treatment for sudden ED. These treatments include:
If the cause of your sudden erectile dysfunction is fatigue from added responsibilities at work or home, find ways to reduce your heavy schedule.
Apply for a new job that doesn’t require burning the midnight oil or hire someone to take care of your elderly relative from time to time so you and your partner can spend time together and get more rest. Even a good night’s sleep can help improve your outlook and sexual health.
Too tired to have sex in the late evening? Try getting together with your partner earlier in the day or on weekends.
Practice activities that help you cope better with stress. Common activities to reduce stress include:
Mild to moderate exercise
Spending time in nature
Research has found yoga is effective in reducing premature ejaculation. Although there haven’t been a lot of studies on the effect of meditation and yoga on erectile dysfunction, if your stress level is affecting your sexual health anything that calms you down may help.
Other treatments for sudden ED include exercise, which not only contributes to relaxation, but it also reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions linked to ED, and it improves blood flow to the penis.
Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink and stopping the use of drugs like cocaine or heroin or recreational drugs like marijuana can improve your sex life. A man who has a substance abuse disorder may have to seek therapy and professional treatment to help kick the habit.
Erectile dysfunction, the inability to get or maintain an erection long enough for sex, can sometimes be temporary.
There are a number of possible causes for temporary erectile dysfunction. For example, erectile dysfunction that’s temporary can result when you start taking a prescription medication that was causing a problem with erections.
Another cause of temporary erectile dysfunction is prostate surgery or a pelvic fracture. Other reasons for temporary erection problems include being too tired or under a lot of stress, drinking too much alcohol, or relationship issues, which can all affect men’s health.
When ED appears and then goes away again only to return at a later date, it could be the first sign of age-related weakening of erections.
Erectile dysfunction that persists over the long-term and doesn’t go away is a sign to seek medical advice. Your doctor can help find out what’s causing the erectile dysfunction and offer treatment options.
Erectile dysfunction over the long-term is often a sign of cardiovascular problems and serves as a red flag for heart disease, so ask your healthcare provider about a full cardiac check up.
The cause of erectile dysfunction that comes on suddenly is often different than erectile dysfunction that develops over time. The primary cause of slower onset erectile dysfunction is poor blood flow to the penis.
A number of factors can cause sudden erectile dysfunction. The most common ones include:
Taking a prescription medication linked to ED
Sexual performance anxiety
Drinking too much alcohol
Using drugs like cocaine, heroin, or marijuana
Nerve damage from a disease like diabetes
Yes, depending upon what’s causing the inability to get or maintain an erection.
Your doctor can help by offering suggestions for treatment options. In cases of erectile dysfunction caused by a side effect of pharmaceutical medications such as blood pressure drugs or antidepressants, doctors can reduce the dosage or switch a man over to a different drug.
Erectile dysfunction caused by mental health issues such as excessive stress or sexual performance anxiety can resolve after implementing stress-reduction treatments. Another treatment is professional therapy, which may help men with sexual performance anxiety, low self-esteem, or couples having relationship issues.
Lifestyle changes may help with erectile dysfunction caused by fatigue, stress, drinking too much alcohol, or using drugs.