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Your Health and Your Erection

Both mental and physical health issues can lead to erectile dysfunction. Here we explore different health conditions related to erectile dysfunction and what you can do to counteract them.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can cause atherosclerosis, a thickening of the blood vessel walls. This thickening makes the blood vessels narrower and less flexible. An erection is dependent upon adequate blood flow, which occurs when the blood vessels to the penis dilate (widen). If the blood vessel walls are thicker, they cannot dilate, so blood flow is impaired and it can be difficult to achieve and maintain an erection. Over time, high blood pressure treatments may help alleviate the symptoms of erectile dysfunction in relation to high blood pressure. However, the best option is to take steps to avoid high blood pressure in the first place. Regular exercise and a healthy diet should help reduce your chances of experiencing high blood pressure.

 

Diabetes

Diabetes is when your body has difficulty maintaining proper blood sugar levels. Over time these high blood sugar levels can cause damage to blood vessels and nerves in the body. An erection is dependent upon certain blood vessels being able to dilate to allow the penis to fill with blood. This process is also linked to the signals transmitted by certain nerves, such as the dorsal nerve in the penis. If these nerves are damaged, it may be difficult for the signals involved in achieving an erection. A healthy diet and exercise can reduce your chances of becoming diabetic. However, if you feel you may have any symptoms of diabetes, you should ensure that you get tested, seek treatment and follow dietary advice given by your doctor, to reduce the chances of experiencing long term damage from the condition.

 

Parkinson’s Disease

Some men with Parkinson’s Disease can experience reduced sex drive and difficulties feeling aroused. This can make it difficult to obtain an erection. The causes of this may be emotional or biological. After a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease many people suffer mental health problems that can have an impact upon their sex life. However, as Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological condition, erectile dysfunction may be caused by altered levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals involved in signalling through nerves) or other changes in the nervous system. Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological condition that usually occurs later in life. The exact cause of Parkinson’s Disease is not yet known, but it is thought that maintaining a healthy diet may help reduce your chances of developing Parkinson’s Disease.

 

Heart Disease

Previously, it was thought that the connection between heart disease and erectile dysfunction was caused by atherosclerosis - a narrowing of the blood vessels. However, now it is thought that it may be caused by a dysfunction of the blood vessel lining and the muscle that surrounds them. This dysfunction can cause impaired blood flow, leading to atherosclerosis and erectile dysfunction. To avoid heart disease, the NHS recommend eating a healthy balanced diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, giving up smoking, reducing alcohol intake and keeping your blood pressure under control.

 

Multiple Sclerosis

Erectile dysfunction is one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis in men. In multiple sclerosis the insulating cells around the nerves are damaged, affecting the transmission of signals along the nerves. This nerve damage can affect the nerves around the penis that are involved in an erection, sexual stimulation and arousal. The cause of multiple sclerosis is not currently understood, so we do not yet know how to prevent it.

 

Obesity

Obesity is connected to erectile dysfunction via other health conditions. Obesity is linked to high blood pressure and diabetes which both can cause erectile dysfunction. In morbidly obese individuals, hormone levels can also be affected which could lead to erection difficulties. Maintaining a healthy weight is important in order to avoid associated diseases including erectile dysfunction.

 

Anxiety & Stress

Anxiety and stress can affect libido and how your brain communicates with the nerves and blood vessels involved in an erection. A common type of anxiety that leads to erectile dysfunction is performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is anxiety related to sex and can include worries about sexual performance, satisfying your partner, pregnancy, sexual health, body-image and self-esteem. Experiencing stress and anxiety can also increase your chances of high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Anxiety and stress can be treated by counselling, sex therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychological treatments. In addition, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication to reduce your experience of anxiety.

 

Depression

Depression can involve a condition known as anhedonia. Anhedonia is an inability to feel pleasure doing activities you would normally have found enjoyable. This can also affect your sex drive and how you respond to sexual activity.  Depression can be treated with psychological therapies and sometimes medication such as antidepressants.

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