What are the causes of erectile dysfunction?

Men experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED) often feel like they are alone, even though that is far from the truth. A recent survey of 2,000 men conducted by a UK pharmacy shows that as many as 43% of men aged 18-60 across the UK are experiencing ED.

In other words, ED is very common and doesn’t discriminate by age. However, given the sensitivity of the topic most men never really get smart around what ED is, what its causes are, and what can be done to combat this enemy. We have compiled an easy guide around ED below, which should help you get up to speed.

 

What Exactly is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction or ED is defined as the inability to get or maintain an erection sufficient enough for sex. However, what exactly happens in our body when you are not able to get hard, even though you want to?

When you are aroused, your brain tells your body to release sexual hormones that tell the blood vessels in your penis to relax and arteries to dilate, or open wider and allowing blood to flow into the penis. As more blood flows in the penis, it expands and gets an erection. If not enough blood flows to the penis or it doesn’t stay inside the penis it causes erectile dysfunction.


What are the Causes of Erectile Dysfunction?
While it is easy to spot the symptom of ED, namely not being able to get an erection, it is way more difficult to identify the specific reason causing ED. Getting erections involves hormones, nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, so it can be difficult to pin down the exact problem and in some cases multiple problems can cause the problem.

In essence, causes for ED can be grouped into two different categories. They can either be physical or psychological.

Physical Causes of ED

There are various physical causes of ED, the most common being related to circulation and blood pressure. Other causes can be heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia,  high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can all have an impact on the amount of blood flowing to the penis. 

Obesity was found to be a significant risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men, even more so than age. Other less common physical conditions that may cause ED are Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, excessive tobacco use, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders, treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Certain prescription medications may cause ED.

Psychological Causes of ED

In a recent survey of men aged 18-60 across the UK, the three most common causes of ED were stress (40%), tiredness (36%) and anxiety (29%), however, the list of other potential psychological causes is significantly longer. Sexual arousal starts in your head, hence mental health problems like anxiety and depression can interfere in your ability to get aroused in the first place.

Performance anxiety is one of the most common causes of ED in young men. The body releases more stress hormones (including adrenaline) than usual. This makes it difficult to relax, feel comfortable and enjoy a sexual experience.

While mental health problems, like depression, can cause ED, it is also important to highlight that ED can cause mental health problems. It is bi-directional and hence important to not leave untreated.


How to Treat ED?

Like with any other difficulties you may be experiencing, it starts with acknowledging that you actually have a problem. In most cases, an appointment with your GP is necessary in order to establish the exact reasons of why you may be experiencing ED. Depending on the cause, your doctor may decide on a treatment for ED. See below for a few alternatives: 

  • Lifestyle Changes – If you do experience ED as a result of certain lifestyle habits (lack of exercise, excessive alcohol or drug consumption, unhealthy diet, professional stress etc.) it may be solved by making healthy changes to your lifestyle.
  • Prescription Medication – The most common form of ED treatment. Prescription medication like Sildenafil (Viagra), Tadalafil (Cialis), and Vardenafil (Levitra) stimulate blood flow to the penis, helping you to achieve an erection.
  • Psychotherapy – If ED is caused by psychological problems, psychotherapy like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may help address the underlying problems that are causing ED.
  • Vacuum Penile Pump – Also known as vacuum constriction devices (VCD), help create an erection using a vacuum pressure. A constriction band or ring is placed around the base of the penis to prevent blood from flowing out of the penis and to maintain the erection.
  • Penile Implant – The most invasive alternative to treat ED. A penile implant is a discrete device that is placed into a man’s penis and a pump placed in the scrotum and is designed to help him get an erection.
Deciding on the right treatment alternative is something which should not be rushed and be discussed with your GP. Given there are many options available, it is important to find the one which is the right one for you. Make sure to give your GP as much information as you can and let them know of any other medications you are currently taking.

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