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Erectile dysfunction medicines

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Erectile dysfunction (impotence) medicines are prescribed to help males get and maintain erections.
  • These medicines work by increasing blood flow to the penis, and help improve sexual performance.
  • Commonly used erectile dysfunction medicines belong to a class of medicines called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors.
  • You need a prescription from your doctor before you can get these medicines, and side effects may include headaches and nasal congestion.
  • Other options for treating erectile dysfunction include lifestyle changes, counselling, and other medicines like alprostadil.

What are erectile dysfunction medicines?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) medicines, commonly known as impotence medicines, are prescribed to help you get and keep an erection. These medicines can help improve male sexual performance.

ED medicines are available in different forms, such as tablets or injections. They are usually taken shortly before sexual activity.

If you're experiencing difficulties in getting or maintaining an erection, your doctor can do a health check and suggest appropriate treatment. ED medicines should only be used under medical guidance.

How do erectile dysfunction medicines work?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) medicines work by improving blood flow to your penis, helping you to get and keep an erection.

The medicines that are most commonly prescribed for ED belong to a class called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors. By inhibiting (reducing) the action of the PDE5 enzyme, they help relax the blood vessels in your penis, allowing increased blood flow during sexual stimulation. There are different ED medicines available in Australia, and each work slightly differently. Your doctor will advise the ED medicine that is right for you, and the dose you need.

Do I need a prescription for erectile dysfunction medicines?

Yes, in Australia you need a prescription from your doctor to get ED medicines. This means you must first see a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or a specialist, who will assess your condition and check if ED medicines are right for you. They will prescribe the appropriate medicine and dosage based on your specific needs. Your doctor will also monitor you to make sure that your medicine is working, and they can adjust the dose if necessary.

If you are taking nitrates (commonly used to manage heart problems like angina), you should not take PDE5 inhibitors. Make sure your doctor knows about all medication you are currently taking, including any sprays or tablets you use to relieve chest pain.

The PDE5 inhibitors available in Australia are avanafil, sildenafil, tadalafil and vardenafil.

Do erectile dysfunction medicines have any side effects?

Like any medicine, all ED medicines have potential side effects.

Common side effects of PDE5 inhibitors include headaches, facial flushing, nasal congestion, and indigestion. Usually, these side effects are mild and temporary. Sometimes you may have more severe side effects such as vision changes, priapism (an erection that won't go down even after sex), or sudden hearing loss.

If you are concerned by any side effects, or have underlying health conditions, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Are there any alternatives to this medicine?

Erectile dysfunction is often linked to your general health. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, and quitting smoking can positively impact ED. Counselling or sex therapy may also help you address underlying psychological factors.

If PDE5 inhibitor medicines are not effective for you, another medicine, such as alprostadil (a medicine you take via injection), may be appropriate for some people.

If your ED is caused by a hormonal problem like low testosterone, your doctor will usually suggest treating that first before trying a PDE5 inhibitor.

Other therapies, like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and acoustic shock wave therapy, have not been proven to cure ED. There is ongoing research into these and other alternatives, and they are not currently recommended by doctors as effective and safe treatment options for ED.

Many people find devices like vacuum erection devices helpful in addressing ED. Vacuum erection devices are also known as penis pumps. They work by creating a low-pressure vacuum that draws blood into the penis causing an erection.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder to help you form a list of questions to ask your GP or other health professional. You can print this off and take it with you to your appointment.

Resources and support

Looking for a medicine? Search for specific generic or brand-name medicines and learn how to take them safely.

Read more on erectile dysfunction, what it is and how to prevent it.

If you or your partner is affected by ED visit the Healthy Male website.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — If you think your erectile dysfunction might be linked to stress, emotional or relationship difficulties, find a counsellor or psychologist using the healthdirect Service Finder tool.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

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