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Erectile Dysfunction

What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is when men can not get a penal erection or can not keep an erection long enough to finish having sex (erectile dysfunction is sometimes called impotence, although that is an older term that doctors arenít using as much these days). Erectile dysfunction is a highly common problem; ten to twenty million men in the United States have erectile dysfunction to some degree. The chance of having problems with erection increases as men age, but many older men have no problems at all.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Many medical conditions, the use of certain medicines, and psychological problems may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction.

Blood Vessel Problems

The most common cause of erectile dysfunction is problems with the blood vessels that carry blood to the penis itself. In some men the blood vessels narrow and do not allow the increased blood flow needed for a full erection. Conditions that cause the blood vessels to narrow include: atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and long term smoking.

Nerve Problems

During a normal erection signals from the brain and spinal cord are sent through nerves through the blood vessels in the pelvis and the genitals. These signals cause the blood vessels to widen and allow the penis to fill with blood and become erect. Many conditions can interfere with these signals, causing erectile dysfunction. Damage to the nerves may be caused by stroke or spinal cord injury, or may occur during prostate surgery or other types of surgery. Diabetes and long term alcohol use can also damage the nervesí ability to send signals.

Hormone Problems

Men who do not make enough testosterone, or male hormone, may have problems achieving an erection. However, low hormone levels more commonly affect the manís interest (i.e., libido) rather than the ability to have an erection. Other hormone abnormalities may also cause erection problems.

Use of Medicines

Many medicines can effect the ability to have sex. Medicines can decrease the ability to have an erection. Medicines can also effect the level of interest in sex and the ability to have an orgasm. Medicines used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and heartburn are among the most common medicines that interfere with the ability to have an erection.

Psychological Problems

Depression, anxiety, or stress may also cause problems with erectile dysfunction. In some men, not feeling satisfied with their sexual function may lead to depression or other psychological symptoms.

How is erectile function treated?

The most effective treatment depends on the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing stress, and strengthening relationships may improve erectile dysfunction. Adjusting regularly used medications and identifying and treating certain medical conditions may also improve erectile function. Pills to aid erectile ability, vacuum devices, and medication placed in the penis are additional treatment options available. If you have erectile dysfunction, you and your physician should work together to decide what treatment is best for you.

Some suggested web site links regarding this topic are:

The National Kidney and Neurologic Diseases Information Clearing House
Also the American Foundation for Urologic Disease
The Impotence World Association


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