Erectile dysfunction is a common issue that affects men of all ages. According to the National Institutes of Health, around 30 million men in the United States alone are affected by erectile dysfunction to varying degrees.
Although erectile dysfunction can be frustrating and stressful, it’s usually treatable through the use of medication, lifestyle changes and other treatments.
If you’ve experienced difficulties getting or maintaining an erection and think that you may be affected by erectile dysfunction (ED), it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider.
You can also perform an erection self-test at home — a simple type of test that you can use to determine whether your erectile dysfunction symptoms are caused by a physical factor or by a psychological one.
Below, we’ve explained how the most common type of at-home erection self-test works, as well as how you can use it to get more information about your ED symptoms.
Erectile Dysfunction Tests: The Basics
Erectile dysfunction can occur for several reasons. Some ED is physical, meaning a physical factor such as your cardiovascular health is affecting your body’s ability to supply blood to the soft tissue of your penis.
Other cases of ED are psychological. If you have psychological ED, a factor such as stress or sexual performance anxiety may make it more difficult for you to get and maintain an erection, even when you’re sexually stimulated.
Unlike many other medical conditions, which can be accurately diagnosed using clinical tests, there’s no standardized test that can confirm whether or not you have erectile dysfunction and why it’s occurring.
When you talk to a healthcare provider about ED, they’ll likely discuss your symptoms with you. They may perform certain tests to check for physical factors that may contribute to erectile dysfunction, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or health issues that affect your blood circulation.
An erectile dysfunction test, or erection self-test, allows you to learn more about whether your ED symptoms are caused by a physical or psychological factor.
The Nocturnal Penile Tumescence (NPT) Test
One of the oldest erectile dysfunction “tests” is the nocturnal penile tumescence test, or NPT test.
Before we go into the specifics, we want to be clear: it’s outdated. It’s not really that accurate. By itself, the NPT test doesn’t confirm that you have erectile dysfunction, or that a certain factor is causing it. If you do give yourself the test, it’s best to treat your results as a basic guide.
If you’re concerned and want to treat your erectile dysfunction, the best option is to talk to a healthcare provider.
That said, the NPT test works by monitoring your ability to get an erection while you sleep.
All men with normal, healthy physiological erectile function will get spontaneous erections during sleep — a phenomenon that’s referred to as nocturnal penile tumescence.
If the NPT test shows that you don’t get erections while sleeping, it may indicate that your ED symptoms are linked to a physical health factor.
To perform the NPT test, you’ll need a strip of four to six postage stamps. You’ll also need to abstain from drinking alcohol or using any tranquilizers or sleep-inducing medications for two days before performing the test.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Place your penis through your fly or gently above your waistband.
- Carefully wrap the strip of postage stamps around the shaft of your penis, being careful not to include any pubic hair, as it can both mess up the stamps’ adhesive, and stick to the stamps (ouch).
- Make sure the strip of stamps fits snugly, but comfortably. We aren’t trying to cut off circulation, boys.
- Make sure to use enough stamps to overlap them and seal the strip together.
- Moisten the last stamp in the strip and stick it to the first stamp, once wrapped around your penis.
- Once the adhesive on the overlapping stamp is dry, you can carefully place your penis back in your underwear (take your time and be sure not to damage the stamps).
Typically, you’ll need to repeat this test for three nights of normal, uninterrupted sleep to get an “accurate” result.
From here, it’s all about observation. If you get an erection during the night, the strip of stamps will tear along the perforated area at the edge of each stamp.
If the stamp ring doesn’t tear on any of the three nights, you may have ED that’s related to a physical health factor, such as a medical condition or use of medication.
Of course, that doesn’t mean anything definitively. For instance, if the stamp ring tears but you still know you’re having a hard time maintaining an erection, it’s very possible that your ED is psychological in nature — and that’s still ED.
Other Tests for Erectile Dysfunction
If your healthcare provider suspects that you have erectile dysfunction, they may request one or several tests to determine the cause.
These aren’t tests that you can do at home — instead, they’re done in a clinical environment such as your healthcare provider’s office. Other tests used to diagnose ED include:
- Blood tests. Your healthcare provider may order a blood test. A variety of tests can be performed on a sample of your blood to check for hormonal deficiencies, cardiovascular health issues, liver and kidney function and other factors that may contribute to erectile dysfunction.
- Urinalysis (urine test). A urine test can reveal information about your hormone levels, kidney function, diabetes and other factors that may contribute to erectile dysfunction.
- Duplex ultrasound test. This type of test evaluates how effectively blood flows through your veins and arteries. It may show tissue scarring, hardening of the arteries and other physical factors that contribute to erectile dysfunction.
- Bulbocavernosus reflex. This test measures the nerve stimulation in your penis. Your healthcare provider may recommend this test if you have erectile dysfunction that could be related to abnormal nerve function.
- Penile biothesiometry test.This test determines nerve sensitivity and function in your penis. Your healthcare provider may recommend this test, or others, if you have erectile dysfunction that could be related to nerve damage.
- Other tests. Other tests that may be used to diagnose ED include cavernosography and dynamic infusion cavernosometry, which may be used to locate and identify venous leak (loss of blood from the erectile tissue), vasoactive injection and arteriography.
Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction
Dealing with erectile dysfunction can be highly stressful. However, erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable. Depending on the cause of your erectile dysfunction, your healthcare provider may suggest one or several of the following treatments:
- Medication. Several FDA-approved prescription medications are currently available to treat ED, including Viagra® (sildenafil), Cialis® (tadalafil), Levitra® (vardenafil) and Stendra® (avanafil).
These medications work by increasing the flow of blood to your penis, making it easier for you to get and maintain an erection. They’re available in a range of dosages to suit your needs and can be used by men in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and older.
- Treatment for other medical conditions. If you have an underlying medical condition that may contribute to erectile dysfunction, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), your healthcare provider may recommend treating the underlying condition.
- Psychotherapy. If your erectile dysfunction is linked to a psychological factor, such as sexual performance anxiety or stress, certain forms of psychotherapy may help you to improve your mental health and treat your erectile dysfunction.
- Lifestyle changes. Making certain changes to your lifestyle, such as exercising more, quitting smoking or losing weight, may help to improve your erectile health and reduce the severity of your erectile dysfunction.
Although it’s generally considered outdated and certainly isn’t perfect accurate, the nocturnal penile tumescence test (NPT test) may help you to work out whether your ED is caused by a physical factor or a psychological one.
If you have erectile dysfunction, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider. Although ED can be frustrating, it’s almost always treatable with medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes or a combination of different treatments.
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.