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.
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.
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.
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