How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction After COVID-19

You’d have to have lived the last few years under a rock not to know about COVID-19. The viral infection spread across the world, infecting tens of millions of people and making its way to every continent. While the initial effects of COVID-19 ranged from mild to fatal, its common symptoms have (for the most part) become a tolerable inconvenience, thanks to vaccines.

While we’ve learned a lot about this virus since it first changed the world, there’s surprisingly little clarity on the COVID-19 infection’s effects on the vascular system — specifically, whether they cause erectile dysfunction (ED).

Can long COVID or the variants of coronavirus cause problems like cardiovascular disease and, eventually, damage erectile function? 

Below, we’ll share what the medical community knows so far about how COVID-19 may affect your sexual health (and your erections). 

We’ll also explain what to do if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have had sexual dysfunction in the time since.

Does COVID Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand a single scientific truth about COVID and ED: COVID isn’t linked to ED with any strong proof. In other words, there’s no current consensus that a cause-and-effect relationship exists between the disease and the virus.

However — and this is a big however — several studies (limited as they might be) have found a possible indirect relationship between the two. This is based on the idea that getting sick could potentially cause ED, and COVID’s symptoms affect many bodily functions, including elements of your reproductive health.

Sexual function is a complicated process, guys, and COVID is a complicated virus — but it helps to think of them in basic terms.

Erections are all about blood flow. When blood flows to the soft tissue inside your penis, that penile tissue can form an erection. This is why erectile dysfunction is often linked to health issues that affect your blood flow.

ED can occur for various reasons, from physical health issues to psychological ones like depression or anxiety. For instance, ED is a common sign of cardiovascular health issues, including high blood pressure (hypertension) and clogged blood vessels.

Your penis and testicles respond to your overall health the same way the rest of your body does — if you’re really sick, you might struggle to function normally.

If you’re keeping up, that means any number of COVID side effects could indirectly influence your erectile potential. But could and did are two very different things.

Currently, researchers have several theories for why COVID-19 appears to cause ED in some men who catch the virus:

  • The hyperinflammatory response and immunosuppression triggered by the virus can damage the vascular system — a factor that may affect blood flow to the penis during foreplay and sex. 

  • COVID-19 may cause testicular damage in some men and affect testosterone levels. Testosterone, which is produced in the testes, plays a major role in sexual desire. It also has a modulating effect on the function of the endothelium (a membrane found inside the heart and blood vessels).

  • COVID-19’s tendency to worsen existing cardiovascular health issues might contribute to ED.

So while COVID could be a possible contributor to ED, we only have a handful of studies, and most of them are severely limited.

We could wade into the nitty-gritty of PubMed research papers with heavy citations on the topic. But the types of study we’d find most compelling (a systematic review or meta-analysis) don’t yet exist.

Instead, there are only a few modest studies with severe limitations. They suggest the following potential connections:

  • One study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation in 2021 notes that ED might be a consequence of COVID-19 for some male patients. as it could contribute to endothelial dysfunction. (Endothelial cells line your blood vessels and regulate blood flow to your penile tissue.)

  • One 2023 survey of over 40,000 men found an increased likelihood of ED diagnosis after COVID.

  • In a small 2022 study of patients who experienced anxiety and/or depression due to COVID, the psychological effect of the virus was also noted as a plausible factor.

All these factors may play a role in erectile dysfunction — and all are serious concerns if you get COVID-19. Now let’s talk about what you can do about it.

How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction After COVID-19

Post-pandemic medical treatment of COVID-19 patients is a lot easier than it used to be. And it’s much easier to visit a urology or andrology specialist for more information today than at the outset of the pandemic.

That’s great news if you have sexual function problems associated with the long-term effects of COVID.

If you’re experiencing ED and think COVID-19 caused it, you have two next steps for dealing with the problem.

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Talk to a Healthcare Provider

If you recently recovered from COVID-19 and notice you have erectile dysfunction, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider. 

Talking to a general practitioner, urologist or another healthcare professional should always be your first step in treating ED, regardless of the cause. A follow-up with a specialist may be necessary.

While you might believe COVID is to blame, ED could be due to another cause, such as comorbidities like a high BMI (body mass index) or heart disease. Or it might be temporary ED that needs no treatment.

Erectile dysfunction often improves with lifestyle changes.

As your health improves, you may notice you’re more able to get and maintain an erection during sexual intercourse. So as you get better, your erections may as well.

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Consider ED Medications

If you don’t notice any improvement after recovering from COVID-19, using ED medication may help you maintain an erection and improve your sexual performance, regardless of what caused it.

Currently, several FDA-approved medications are available to treat erectile dysfunction. These include sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (generic Cialis®), vardenafil (generic Levitra®) and avanafil (the generic version of Stendra®). 

It’s crucial to talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms (for both ED and COVID) and share whether you’ve had a history of sexual function issues.

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COVID and ED: Next Steps

Even though the COVID-19 vaccine has undoubtedly saved millions of lives, the post-COVID world is still struggling with some of the long-hauler’s effects.

Beyond long COVID, plenty of people have had problems with mental health, chronic health problems and other issues experts will be studying for years to come. 

The same goes for men’s health and sexual activity issues some guys believe are attached to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We can’t tell you what the truth is yet.

What we can tell you is this:

  • Erectile dysfunction is an extremely common issue for men of all ages. Research shows that about 30 million men in the United States are affected by ED, and a number of risk factors can contribute to it.

  • Although erectile dysfunction isn’t a common symptom of COVID-19, some people have reported difficulty getting or maintaining an erection after catching the virus.

  • Research suggests its effects on existing cardiovascular health issues may increase the risk of ED for some men, as well as stress from the effects of COVID-19.

  • A handful of weak studies suggest the possibility that COVID affects everything from endothelial cells to pulmonary health.

  • If you’ve been affected by COVID-19 and now find it difficult to develop or maintain an erection, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about treating erectile dysfunction.

  • Your provider can diagnose ED, help you understand if the signs point to COVID as a cause, and provide more information about your options for treating ED. 

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Life after COVID is challenging for some. Don’t let it keep you from enjoying that life.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.

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