Study data suggests it affects 18 million men over the age of 20 in the United States.
It affects men of all ages but becomes increasingly prevalent with age.
Millions of men struggle with it, but shockingly few ever seek treatment.
What condition is this common while remaining underdiagnosed and, in many cases, untreated?
These words are enough to make any man nervous. Erectile dysfunction is a highly personal problem that many men find embarrassing or shameful to talk about.
Men who fail to seek treatment for erectile dysfunction often feel as though they are alone in their suffering, but nothing could be further from the truth. A study on male aging found that as many as 40 percent of men experience some degree of erectile dysfunction by the time they reach 40, and the incidence rises as high as 70 percent by age seventy.
Erectile dysfunction is common, but many men fail to learn even the basics about exactly what it is, what causes it and what can be done to treat and prevent it. Keep reading to learn more about this condition and how you can best manage it.
Also known as ED, erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sex. But what — exactly — happens? Inside the penis there are two long, cylindrical chambers called the corpora cavernosa, which contain a myriad of blood vessels and tissues, as well as one major artery in each chamber.
When you become aroused, your brain sends chemical messages to the blood vessels in the penis, causing them to dilate or open, allowing blood to flow into the penis. As the pressure builds, the blood becomes trapped in the corpora cavernosa, keeping the penis erect. If blood flow to the penis is insufficient or if it fails to stay inside the penis, it can lead to erectile dysfunction.
The symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause.
Arousal starts in the brain, but it also involves the nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
Generally speaking, causes for erectile dysfunction can be divided into two categories: physical and psychological. Though each of these categories has its own set of contributing factors, many cases of erectile dysfunction involve causes from both categories. Here is an overview of each category:
The most common physical causes of erectile dysfunction are related to circulation and blood pressure. Heart disease, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and high blood pressure can all impact the amount of blood flowing to the penis. Diabetes contributes to ED by damaging your nerves and blood vessels. Taking certain medications is also associated with causing or exacerbating ED.
Obesity and metabolic syndrome can cause changes in blood pressure, body composition and cholesterol, which may lead to ED. Other conditions that may contribute to erectile dysfunction include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders, smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse. Taking certain medications can also increase your risk for ED.
In many cases, ED is rooted in psychological issues — especially in men under 40 years of age. Because arousal starts in the brain, psychological issues can be a significant contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can negatively impact your libido, making it more difficult for you to become aroused.
Stress can also be a major factor because it may interfere with your brain sending signals to allow extra blood to flow to the penis. In many cases, psychological issues develop into performance anxiety which, in and of itself, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Though it can sometimes be difficult to pin down the specific cause for your erectile dysfunction, it is always worth the effort. Left untreated, ED can contribute to worsened stress and anxiety as well as low self-esteem, relationship problems, and impotence. Keep reading to learn about treatment options.
In many cases, diagnosing erectile dysfunction requires little more than a physical exam and a review of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects that an underlying health problem may be at play, however, they may request additional testing. Once you’ve determined the cause for your ED, you and your doctor can decide on a form of treatment.
Here are some of the options:
When choosing an erectile dysfunction treatment, you should take your time. There are many options available, and while none of them are perfect, some may be a better fit for you than others. Before you start a course of treatment, be sure to tell your doctor about any drugs or supplements you may be taking and keep an eye out for side effects.
Having learned a great deal more about erectile dysfunction including its risk factors and causes, you should be equipped to assess your own erectile function.
If you have experienced erectile issues or you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, it may be worth making a trip to your doctor’s office. If you choose to seek help, give your doctor as much information as you can about your symptoms including their frequency and severity as well as the onset.
With your doctor’s help, you can determine the best course of treatment to restore sexual function.
Erectile dysfunction may be an unpleasant condition that no one really wants to talk about, failing to acknowledge it won’t make the problem go away. Your best defense against health problems like this is to learn everything you can about it so you can tackle the problem at the root. If you’re ready to stop living in embarrassment about your sexual function, become an advocate for yourself and your own health and talk to your doctor.