Early signs and symptoms of erectile dysfunction

A woman sitting on a bed with an embarrassed man looking down at his penis under the duvet

Key takeaways

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition that causes a person to be unable to get or sustain an erection for sexual intercourse.
  • Early warning signs of erectile dysfunction include weak early morning erections, reduced sexual desire, and difficulty getting and keeping an erection.
  • Physical factors like damage to the nerve supplying the penis and psychological factors can cause erectile dysfunction. However, doctors can treat it using medications, penile implants, and sex therapy.

When people with penises get aroused, their penis gets erect in readiness for sexual intercourse. The erection of the penis makes it possible for them to engage in satisfactory sexual intercourse.

Sexually active people can experience ED occasionally due to so many reasons. It can be due to stress, alcohol and tobacco use or underlying health conditions like cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, drug use, and Parkinson's disease.

Also, any problem encountered during the different phases of erection can lead to erectile dysfunction.

You may be wondering what the early warning signs of erectile dysfunction are and when you should see your doctor for an erection challenge. This article will discuss all of that, including the causes of erectile dysfunction and how to treat it.

Warning signs you may have erectile dysfunction

Some of the early signs that may point to the development of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Difficulty getting an erection: This is one of the most common early signs of erectile dysfunction. This can occasionally happen, like when you are stressed and going through some emotional issues. However, if it becomes consistent and you notice you have gone a long time without getting a proper erection, you should seek medical counsel to know if you have erectile dysfunction.
  • Inconsistent or weak early morning erections: It is normal for men to have an early morning erection before they wake up. If you start having a weak erection or you stop noticing your erection early in the morning, that's one of the early warning signs of ED that shouldn't be ignored.
  • Difficulty keeping or maintaining an erection - Being unable to get an erection occasionally because you are stressed or distracted may not imply you have ED. But, if it becomes consistent, especially if you want to have sexual intercourse but can't get an erection, you should also reach out to your doctor, as this is one of the early signs of erectile dysfunction.
  • Reduced sexual desire: Having an unexplained lack of sexual desire for a long time might be a warning symptom of erectile dysfunction. If you have tried stimulating your sexual urge to no positive effect, you should reach out to your doctor.

At what age is erectile dysfunction most common?

Erectile dysfunction is mostly associated with an increased age of about 40 years and above.1 However, much younger people can still develop erectile dysfunction. A study found that one in four patients with a new onset of erectile dysfunction was younger than 40.

Another research found that at age 40, about 40% of men have erectile dysfunction, while at age 70, about 70% have ED.4

Even though ED is more common among older adults, if you are younger, you should not rule it out when you get some of its early signs. See your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.

Some health conditions can lead to the earlier development of erectile dysfunction. If diagnosed with any underlying health condition, your healthcare team will work with you to provide immediate treatment.

Causes of erectile dysfunction

Physical or emotional factors can cause erectile dysfunction. Underlying health conditions can also cause it.

Some of the physical causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Insufficient blood flow to the penis, which can be caused by health conditions like high blood sugar, hardened arteries, and heart diseases
  • Interruption of the nerve signals coming from the brain or spinal cord to the penis, which can be caused by some diseases or spinal cord injury
  • Damage to the nerve supplying the penis, which medical conditions like diabetes can cause
  • Some treatments near the penis, like cancer treatments, which can impair the functionality of the penis

Some of the emotional causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Depression: Sometimes being in a state of depression can cause erectile dysfunction. Therapies that improve mood can help with this.
  • Relationship problems: Having issues with your partner, can also impair your sexual function.
  • Excessive stress: Being excessively stressed out can cause a temporal state of erectile dysfunction.
  • Anxiety: Things like being constantly anxious about satisfying a new partner in bed can also lead to a temporal state of erectile dysfunction.

Studies have also indicated that STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV can cause ED.

How to treat erectile dysfunction

Your doctor may start diagnosing you by asking you questions like, "Do you smoke?" "Do you take alcohol?" "Do you have any urinary problems?" "Do you have any underlying health issues?" "do you make use of recreational drugs?" etc.

Your doctor might make a primary diagnosis by looking at your health history and based on the signs and symptoms you report.

If you have any underlying illness causing or intensifying erectile dysfunction, the first approach is often to commence treatment for the underlying sickness. This is totally up to your doctor to decide.

Also, some cases may require that you get transferred to a specialist, e.g., a urologist.

The most common treatments for erectile dysfunction include:

  • Penile implants
  • Injectable drugs
  • Oral medication (don't ever self-medicate when you have ED, ensure that all recommendation comes from your doctor)
  • The use of vacuum devices
  • Counseling and sex therapy


Certain medications (e.g., nitrates) can interact with erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra. The drug interaction can cause severe adverse effects, so it is advisable to tell your doctor about any other medication you are taking.

Sometimes, during treatment, the doctor might recommend some lifestyle and home remedies for ED, such as pointing out some habits you have to drop like smoking, alcohol, certain drugs, and tobacco.

You may be referred to a therapist if your erectile dysfunction is due to some emotional and psychological conditions resulting from relationship problems, stress, depression, or anxiety.

When to see your doctor

When you start experiencing the early signs of erectile dysfunction, it is always best to visit your doctor. If you notice any issues with your erection, you can reach out to your healthcare provider rather than wait until it worsens.

Also, if you have any health conditions associated with erectile dysfunction like heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes, you should let your doctor know when you consult them.

Wrap up

Erectile dysfunction affects a person's relationships and sexual life. Sadness, depression, and other psychological conditions are frequently present along with it. However, it is treatable.

If you consistently experience the early warning signs of ED, as discussed in this article, you should not hesitate to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.