Many men experience erectile dysfunction (ED). Yet, a new survey from the European Association of Urology found that most men and women are unaware of the problem.

"As ED is actually a common male medical condition, it is surprising that a majority does not know what ED is," said Christopher Chapple, MD, secretary general of the European Association of Urology, in a press statement.

Erectile dysfunction is pretty much what it sounds like: difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection for sexual intercourse. It spans a pretty broad spectrum, from an inability to get an erection to not being able to keep an erection for a practical period of time.

The knowledge gap

The survey covered over 3,000 men and women from Spain, France, Germany and England. Only half those surveyed knew what an ED was. About a quarter of the men with ED had never spoken to anyone else about it. For those men in relationships, about 70% did not report talking about the ED with their partner. This runs counter to Dr. Chapple's advice to "talk about it with each other. This will provide relief and will take away some of the pressure. Communication is the key to breaking the taboo."

According to an article from the University of Wisconsin, by age 50, 10 out of 20 men will have had some level of erectile dysfunction. By age 70, 14 out of 20 men will have had some level of ED, and 3 in every 20 men will have complete ED.

What can be done

To some extent, there are treatments. The National Institutes of Health suggests lifestyle modification (like quitting smoking) or sex therapy. Some medications for blood pressure, cancer therapy, and antidepressants can have ED as a side effect, so if a change in prescription is possible, this could solve the problem. The NIH has a complete list of drugs that could cause ED. Never discontinue a prescribed medication without consulting a doctor.

There are also prescription medications that can help, famously Viagra, but also Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn and Stendra. There are more invasive medications, as well as injectable drugs, prosthetics, and even reconstructive surgery to improve blood flow. There are many options, although different treatments are better for some people and worse for others. The NIH warns against self-treatment with "natural" supplements, saying, "not all "natural': medicines or supplements are safe. Combinations of certain prescribed and alternative medicines could cause major health problems."

Although a discussion of ED might be difficult or embarrassing, it can open the door to real solutions. As with all health conditions, proper education is the first step to getting good treatment.