How to help a partner deal with erectile dysfunction

Health measures such as weight management, smoking cessation, reducing alcohol consumption, and general stress strategies can improve ED, so says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll
How to help a partner deal with erectile dysfunction

A TOPIC that may initially seem strange for a woman’s health and wellness column, erectile dysfunction (ED) is something that actually affects many women indirectly in terms of their intimate relationships and supporting the psychological health of their partner.

Evidence also shows that women are often the people to prompt health interventions for spouses and other members of the family, so it’s a topic that is worth knowing more about in order to be able to guide them along the right path of treatment, particularly when access to help has increased; pharmacists are now able to provide sildenafil, better known as Viagra, over the counter to those men who meet the criteria.

ED is when an erection hard enough for satisfactory sexual intercourse cannot be attained or maintained. It’s an issue that can occur occasionally or frequently, and may be mild or severe in nature.

While stress, alcohol, mood problems, major life issues such as work or finance concerns, or certain medications can lead to ED, there can alternatively be an underlying physical cause which would be important to rule out e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart issues.

ED is something that sufferers are slow to talk about, and stigma around it is gradually being dissolved through education and information.

Open non-judgmental conversations are important in order to put the person at ease, and to allow them to seek the help that may well be the difference between psychological suffering and improved outcomes for them.

At any point, it is possible to speak to your GP about erectile dysfunction problems, but more recently, pharmacies are offering that consultation service, and are able to provide sildenafil without prescription in certain circumstances.

This can improve symptoms, as well as re-etablishing self confidence, self-esteem and reducing relationship strain due to the psychological pressure that it can place on it.

The initial consultation takes a little time, but it is conducted in privacy and will then allow you to purchase sildenafil for a period of time going forward, after just a brief check that your situation and/or health status has not changed.

Sildenafil from the pharmacy must be provided to the man himself after a private conversation with the pharmacist, and he must be over the age of 18 to access it.

It is generally a very well tolerated treatment, and works in conjunction with sexual stimulation by stopping the breakdown of something called cGMP in the body, which is needed for an erection. If it’s not being broken down, its levels raise and an erection is more easily achieved.

The dose available from the pharmacy is 50mg, and this is sufficient for many men. A higher dose is available from the GP if it’s not sufficient, and in some cases a lower dose may be warranted, something that your pharmacist will flag.

It is not suitable for improving sexual performance if ED is not present (e.g. premature ejaculation instead), and is not to be used if there are any allergies to the ingredients.

Men with low blood pressure, kidney or liver impairment, certain eye disorders, blood clotting or cardiovascular problems, or physical issues relating to the penis, should not use it over the counter and should seek further advice from their GP.

Things like having a stroke in the previous six months or breathlessness on exertion would be other contraindications.

Once the pharmacist has established suitability of Viagra for use, the patient should plan to take it one hour before intercourse with a glass of water, with a limit of one tablet per day.

It tends to work after 30 minutes, and for up to four hours after ingestion once sexual stimulation is provided.

High fat meals may reduce its efficacy, and grapefruit juice should be avoided.

It mostly works after one or two doses (maximum one dose per day) but for some men it could take additional attempts to obtain maximal benefit.

Once starting the Viagra provided by the pharmacist, it is advised to inform the doctor that you’re taking it and to get a general health check within six months, to investigate the root cause of the ED.

Health measures such as weight management, smoking cessation, reducing alcohol consumption and general stress strategies can improve ED and provide general overall health benefits also.

So, if somebody in your life is suffering from ED, and it’s something that you feel comfortable broaching, the above information may serve as a signposting towards what could potentially help while investigation into the root cause is ongoing.


Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.

Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally.


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