How men's health affects erections

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The fact that erectile dysfunction is largely a problem that is ignored by men, it may be that some serious health issues are going undiscovered; erectile dysfunction can be caused by many physical and psychological factors that may require urgent attention

Erectile dysfunction is defined as ‘the inability to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to have sexual intercourse’. In a normal situation, an erection is achieved when a specific sequence of events occurs. Firstly, sexual arousal will cause the brain to send nerve impulses to the penis. The nerve stimulus will result in the blood vessels to the penis increasing the blood flow whilst the vessels taking the blood away will constrict reducing the blood flow away from the penis. This will cause the spongy tissue in the penis to become engorged with blood and so make the penis stiff and stand proud of the body - an erection. If any of the factors involved in this process are disrupted, that is, the arousal, nerve stimulation, or blood flow, it is likely that erectile dysfunction will follow.

How a man's health can affect healthy erectile function can be separated into the physical and emotional or psychological problems

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Psychological causes

There are a variety of emotional problems that may contribute to erectile dysfunction. It may be that it becomes a vicious circle when emotional issues begin the ED but then the |ED itself generates its own psychological problems with feelings of worthlessness, lack of confidence, and even shame.

Some conditions that may cause ED are:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt (the belief that sexual intercourse is wrong)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of sexual failure

It may also be that some of the medications that are given for the psychological problems exacerbate the ED.  These would include some anti-depressants, tranquillizers and muscle relaxants


Physical causes

It may be that you are already aware that you are suffering from a condition that has ED as a side effect but there are a number of conditions of which ED can be an early symptom:

  • Diabetes - diabetics tend to have more sugar in the blood than other people. When this has been the case long term it can result in damage to nerve endings and blood vessels, both of which can cause ED
  • Disease in the blood vessels and heart - the process which results in heart disease may also be a contributor in erectile dysfunction (eg.  atherosclerosis) and the effect on erectile function is likely to be seen at an earlier point in the development of the disease, so acting as an early indicator of cardiovascular disease.
  • High blood pressure or hypertension is also experienced in developing cardiovascular disease. The blood pressure rises as the blood is forced round constricted vessels, this in itself is a cause of erectile dysfunction
  • Kidney disease
  • Multiple sclerosis - the ED is a direct result of the nerve-damaged experienced by MS sufferers
  • Parkinson’s disease - ED may become a problem as the disease progresses as well as being a side effect of Parkinson’s medication; the anxiety and depression often associated with PD can lead to ED and reduced libido
  • Peyronie's disease - the injury associated with Peyronie's disease may lead to the buildup of scar tissue which in turn may cause pain during an erection.  This in itself is likely to create a scenario where there will be psychological barriers to achieving an erection
  • Low testosterone levels
  • Injury to the spinal cord, penis, prostate gland, bladder or pelvis may cause nerve injury likely to interfere with the process of achieving an erection
  • Surgeries in the are may have the same result
  • Radiation therapy may also cause damage to tissue

We also need to consider how lifestyle issues can affect our health and so how they may also affect erectile function:

  • Smoking contributes to the narrowing of the blood vessels and so this will interfere with the blood supply to the penis
  • Drinking too much alcohol will have a very marked effect on the ability to achieve an erection
  • The use of illegal drugs as well as some prescription drugs will interfere with erectile function. They include tranquillisers, antidepressants as mentioned earlier but they also include alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana, methadone, nicotine and opiates
  • Being overweight is not directly linked to erectile dysfunction but overweight people are far more at risk of suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol which are all linked to ED
  • Not taking regular exercise - this is linked to being overweight, having high blood pressure and suffering from poor vascular health, again all associated with ED


Treatment for ED

When it comes to the psychological causes for ED, it may be that depression and anxiety can be treated with medication but we need to remember that some medications associated with these problems can actually cause erectile dysfunction

Aside from that, there are a variety of counselling options to consider relationship counselling to psychosexual therapy. Your GP will help you decide which type of practitioner will be able to help

When it comes to treating ED when there are physical causes present, if the physical cause is treated then the ED which was a symptom will probably correct itself.

If for any reason the ED symptoms persist  there are medications designed to help with the symptoms.  These medications are designed to increase the blood flow to the penis in order to facilitate an erection. They are known as PDE inhibitors and include brands such as Viagra (sildenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) 



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