Men with Serious Illness Skip Erectile Dysfunction Treatment

How important is maintaining satisfactory sexual function in your life? Chances are, it’s fairly high on your list. Yet men with erectile dysfunction and serious illness are less likely to get treatment for their sexual challenges, even though healthy sexual activity is a significant part of the quality of life.

Why do some seriously ill men tend to ignore their sexual health? A team of researchers from the University Medical Center in Maribor, Slovenia, wanted to find out. They published their findings in the International Journal of Impotence Research.

Erectile dysfunction and serious illness

Only about 10 percent of men who have erectile function challenges are treated. It appears an even lower percentage of men are treated if they also are living with a chronic or serious illness.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Dejan Bratus, he and his colleague were surprised at “the attitude of health professionals toward the sexual problems of their patients as it seems that a large proportion of doctors are unwilling to discuss these problems with their patients.”

Even though erectile dysfunction is being talked about more than it was a decade ago, there is still a reluctance on the part of some doctors and patients to address the matter.

A total of 500 men who were visiting their family physician were surveyed for the study. Only two questions appeared on the survey:

  • Does sexual activity represent an important part of your life at this time of your life?
  • If you ever in your life suffered from erectile dysfunction (impotence), would you want to get it treated?

The men were divided into three groups:

  • 176 men (average age, 50) who had no underlying illness and who were seeing their doctor for preventive reasons or a short-term problem. Their visits involved discussions about back pain, urinary tract infections, and respiratory issues.
  • 244 men (average age ,60) who had an existing chronic illness but no serious complications. Their discussions centered around diabetes, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
  • 66 men (average age, 62) who had a severe or malignant condition, such as cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The men differed in how important they thought sex was to their well-being:

  • Healthy men: more than 90 percent
  • Those with a mild illness: 80 percent
  • Men with chronic illness: 70 percent

In response to the second question, the results were similar: nearly 90 percent of healthy and mildly healthy men said they would seek treatment for erectile dysfunction, but just 70 percent of the seriously ill men said they would.

Treating erectile dysfunction in men with serious illness

One reason why men with erectile dysfunction and serious illness are not receiving treatment for their sexual issues is a lack of communication between the patient and his healthcare provider, according to Kathryn Flynn, of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Flynn has been involved in a number of studies that have used the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System® Sexual Function and Satisfaction measures, or PROMIS® SexFS. It has been used to measure sexual function and satisfaction among men with prostate cancer. She was not a part of the study reported here.

Flynn noted that although there are many ED treatments available, patients are not receiving them. The disconnect between doctors and men with erectile dysfunction and serious illness needs to be remedied. As Bratus explained, “Our message to men who suffer from erectile dysfunction is that this is just a disease like any other,” and that “we strongly advise them to talk about it with their doctors” so they can access treatment and improve their sex lives and thus their quality of life.


Bratus D, Bratus T. Men with serious chronic illnesses and malignancies are less likely to seek treatment for erectile dysfunction. International Journal of Impotence Research 2019 Apr 11

Crist C. Men with serious illness may not seek erectile dysfunction treatment. Health News Reuters 2019 May 2

Flynn KE et al. Development of the NIH PROMIS® Sexual Function and Satisfaction measures in patients with cancer. Journal of Sexual Medicine 2013 Feb; 10 Supp 1:43-52