Erectile Dysfunction

What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction occurs when a man is unable to get and sustain an erection during sexual intercourse due to a limited flow of blood to the penis. The causes can be emotional or medical.

This is a very common issue, especially if a man has consumed too much alcohol or is extremely tired. It may be concerning if the problem is ongoing however, since it can affect relationships, self-confidence, and stress levels.

Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom for many serious diseases such as Peyronie’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer. High cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure are also risk-factors. Certain medications, cancer treatments, and pelvic/spinal surgeries can also cause this condition.

This disorders is also more frequent in relation to age, tobacco and alcohol consumption, sedentary life and lack of exercise or sleep or stress.

A series of psychological causes also need to be verified before approaching the problem from a medical point of view.

What are the Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction makes it difficult to not only get an erection, but to keep an erection. A man may also experience a low sex drive, anxiety, or depression.

This dysfunction is also linked to psychological problems that those who are affected experience.

Erectile Dysfunction Causes

Erectile dysfunction (ED) has several causes, ranging from physical to psychological. There are four main health conditions that can trigger physical problems underlying erectile dysfunction. These include vasculogenic, hormonal imbalance, neurogenic and anatomical conditions.

Injuries or surgical procedures involving the penis as well as those around the pelvic area can also cause erectile dysfunction. Erectile injury has also been reported in 15-25% of people who experience neurologic injury.

Erectile dysfunction is also strongly associated with cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. Besides these, neurogenic conditions like Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and multiple sclerosis have also been linked to erectile dysfunction.

As already mentioned, hormonal imbalance can also cause erectile dysfunction. Hormonal conditions that cause ED include hypogonadism, an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, and Cushing’s syndrome.

Certain medications have also been linked to erectile dysfunction. These include fibrates, diuretics, antipsychotics, antihypertensives, corticosteroids, and antidepressants among other medications.

Other erectile dysfunction causes include anatomical conditions like Peyronie’s diseases, psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, obesity, fatigue, use of hard drugs like heroin and cannabis, and excessive alcohol consumption.

How is Erectile Dysfunction Treated?

Before prescribing medications, clinicians usually check if the problem has psychological roots. In this case, psychotherapy together with simple lifestyle adjustments can solve the problem.

Anxiety, stress or low self-esteem/sense of inadequacy might be root causes of erectile dysfunction and this becomes clear if it can be proven that there are no medical/mechanical problems connected to the issue (if for example nocturnal penile tumescence –erections which occur during sleep or when waking up- is not affected).

Men with this condition may want to take medicine that enhances nitric oxide’s effects. Nitric oxide is a natural chemical that relaxes muscles in the penis and increases blood flow. If a man has low levels of testosterone, then hormone replacement therapy may be recommended. Penis pumps are vacuum-like structures that can also be used to encourage blood flow.

If there are structural issues with the penis that restrict blood flow, then blood vessel surgery is recommended. During surgery, the doctor will take a portion of blood vessel from the stomach and then use it to bypass artery damage that supplies blood in the penis. Counseling is also recommended to help those who struggle with the emotional effects of this condition.

Erectile Dysfunction Prevention

There are tons of reasons to keep a healthy body weight, and erectile functioning is one of them. Keeping a healthy body weight is extremely important if you want to keep most of the cardiovascular conditions and obesity-related problems that trigger ED at bay. Poor blood flow to the penis can, over time, cause damage that would eventually lead to weak erections or ED.

Diet plays an important role in your sex life as well as overall health. Focus on a diet that is good for your heart, because proper circulation is key to erectile functioning. That means consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, while avoiding too much salt, sugar and fat.

Stress can also have a serious effect on your sex life. The same is true for a healthy erection. Stress at work, home, or in a relationship can contribute to erectile dysfunction. Other erectile dysfunction prevention mechanisms include finding the time for an adequate exercise routine, getting enough sleep, and avoiding alcohol and substance abuse.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017