Impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED) does not have just one cause. ED can be caused by a number of things including lifestyle choices and medical conditions, but all specialists agree that it becomes more common as a man ages. Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing, disheartening, and can put a strain on your relationship. Fortunately, there are many things—like lifestyle changes and medications—that may help you overcome this condition. Talk to your doctor to find out what you can do to treat erectile dysfunction. These are among the most common reasons a man may experience impotence.
It is not uncommon for obese men to experience erectile dysfunction. Studies show that obese men are more than twice as likely to experience ED than those who are not overweight. Obesity raises the risk of cardiovascular conditions including atherosclerosis—when the blood vessels collect cholesterol deposits, which limits blood flow—even to the penis. Also, men who are obese often have an imbalance in hormone levels. Studies show that obese men have lower testosterone levels than men of average weight. Testosterone is a necessary element in achieving and maintain an erection. Not only does obesity influence a man’s physical ability to keep an erection, but it affects him psychologically as well. Obese men are more likely to experience decreased libido, depression, and decreased energy—all factors which can cause ED.
Up to 75% of men with diabetes will experience ED at some point in their lives. According to the Mayo Clinic, poor long-term blood sugar control can cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels, leading to ED. That is why men with diabetes will experience erectile dysfunction up to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. In addition, diabetes is often linked with other medical conditions that can cause ED including high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Some medications may help a man with diabetes achieve and maintain an erection, although many of them are not suited for people with heart conditions because they react badly with heart medication. Talk to your doctor to find out what you can do to correct this problem.
Another common cause of erectile dysfunction is hypertension or high blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure is when the heart is working too hard to pump blood, and the blood is repeatedly putting pressure on the walls of the arteries. According to the American Heart Association, 85 million Americans, or one in every three adults over age 20, have high blood pressure. Hypertension raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease or failure, vision loss, angina, peripheral artery disease, and sexual dysfunction. In men, it can present as erectile dysfunction, and in women, it may present as low libido. To manage high blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends eating a balanced diet that is low in salt, limiting your alcohol intake, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and properly taking any prescribed medications.
The most common cause of erectile dysfunction is atherosclerosis—and one of the things which lead to atherosclerosis is high cholesterol. Research shows that men with high levels of total cholesterol have an increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction. Furthermore, studies show that erectile dysfunction in patients with high cholesterol is indicative of, and puts the person at higher risk of later developing coronary heart disease.
It is proven that erectile dysfunction may be an early sign of heart disease. There are a number of reasons these conditions are related. Firstly, the buildup of plaque in the arteries can limit blood flow to the penis, leading to difficulty with an erection. Another reason, according to the Mayo Clinic, is due to the dysfunction of the inner lining of the blood vessels and smooth muscle. This limits blood supply to the penis and the heart, causing first ED and then heart disease. It should be noted that these things are not mutually exclusive—erectile dysfunction does not always indicate an underlying cardiovascular condition—but it is something to talk to your doctor about.
Smoking damages blood vessels, which results in poor circulation and poor blood supply to all the organs in the body, including to the penis and to the heart. The chemicals from cigarette smoke line the blood vessels and impair their function. If the blood vessels in the penis are damaged, they cannot expand and fill with blood—which is necessary for an erection. Fortunately, if you quit smoking, your vascular health is likely to improve.
Alcohol acts as a depressant on the nervous system. It can block messages from the brain to the body, affecting a man’s ability to maintain an erection. Short term, alcohol may prevent the blood vessels in the penis from closing once they are filled with blood. This means that a man may be able to become erect, but not to maintain the erection. Long-term, alcohol can cause damage to the blood vessels, and lead to hypertension and heart disease—two big risk factors for erectile dysfunction.
Degenerative diseases are conditions in which there is a continuous degeneration of the cells in the tissues and organs. Various studies found that 50-75% of men with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) experience ED. Women with MS also experience sexual dysfunction in the form of low libido. Other degenerative diseases which may cause erectile dysfunction include Cystic Fibrosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and many others.
Unfortunately, there are many prescription and over-the-counter medications that can cause sexual dysfunction. These drugs include diuretics and high blood pressure drugs; anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and antiepileptic drugs; antihistamines; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; Parkinson’s disease medications; antiarrhythmics; histamine H2-receptor antagonists; muscle relaxants; prostate cancer medications; and chemotherapy drugs. If you are experiencing ED due to drugs, do not stop taking your medication. Talk to your doctor to see if there is anything you could do (i.e., switching drugs, reducing the dose, etc.) to improve the situation.
Physical and medical problems are not the only cause of erectile dysfunction. If a man has low libido or suffers from mental health conditions, he may not be able to achieve or maintain an erection. This includes depression, anxiety, or stress, but it can also extend to relationship problems and intimacy issues. Talk to a mental health professional to figure out the best course of treatment so that you can enjoy time in the bedroom with your partner.
Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing for some men—and for this reason, many cases go unreported and untreated. Know that you are not alone. Many men suffer from ED, and talking to your doctor about it can lift the weight off your shoulders, and provide you with a practical treatment plan.
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