Erectile dysfunction causes a man to lose the ability to gain or maintain an erection. In some cases, a partial erection may occur, in others, there may be no expansion of the penis whatsoever.
Erectile dysfunction can occur in men of all ages. However, the problem does get worse as men get older. Around 50% of all men aged between 40 and 70 will have experienced the problems that erectile dysfunction causes at one time or another, rising to 70% for men over 70.
Erectile dysfunction causes problems with relationships and self-esteem and is something of a taboo subject. Men rarely discuss it and don’t ask for help – which is unfortunate as effective treatments are available.
This article on causes of erectile dysfunction is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
The four main types
The causes of erectile dysfunction can be split into four types – physical, psychological, medicinal and lifestyle – although these factors can often overlap. For example, even if the underlying problem is physical, erectile dysfunction causes stress and anxiety, which can then make the problem worse. This causes more stress and starts a vicious circle of negative feedback.
1. Physical causes of erectile dysfunction
Physical problems involving blood supply to the penis cause around three-quarters of all cases of erectile dysfunction. If the arteries supplying blood become narrowed, you may not get enough blood flow to achieve an erection. The same factors that lead to heart disease cause narrowed arteries in the penis:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Blood vessel damage due to smoking
On a positive note, the physical changes to the blood system that erectile dysfunction causes can be an early warning sign for potential heart disease. They often develop several years before coronary problems arise and become life-threatening. So while erectile dysfunction causes you embarrassment and even distress, it could just save your life.
Other physical causes of erectile dysfunction include nerve damage due to a nearby operation (for example prostate surgery), stroke and spinal damage. It can also result from specific conditions such as Peyronie’s Disease, which affects the erectile tissue, and hypospadias, which causes the abnormal penis development.
Sexual processes in the body are often triggered and controlled by hormones, such as testosterone, and an imbalance of these hormones can be one of the causes of erectile dysfunction. Conditions such as hypogonadism, which restricts the production of testosterone, or thyroid gland problems, can easily be treated with hormone replacements or regulators.
2. Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction
Since sexual stimulation is as much a mental as a physical process, there can often be psychological causes of erectile dysfunction. If your problem develops quite suddenly, it is more likely to be an emotionally-based one. Erectile dysfunction caused by a degenerative condition tends to develop more gradually.
If you are under pressure at work or in other areas of your life, this can be a distraction in the bedroom. Similarly, if you and your partner have unresolved conflict, you may not be able to disassociate this from the sexual act. The problem may be as simple as not being ‘turned on’ by your partner. This can be due to your own unresolved issues of sexual orientation, or simply through sexual boredom. However it starts, erectile dysfunction causes more conflict and upset, and this can turn into another vicious circle of negative association.
3. Lifestyle causes of erectile dysfunction
As with heart disease, there are many lifestyle factors that can be causes of erectile dysfunction. A lack of exercise, smoking and poor diet will all contribute to poor cardio-vascular health.
Other lifestyle factors can become temporary causes of erectile dysfunction. Excessive drinking or drug abuse can cause what is often known as ‘brewer’s droop’ – a short-term inability to gain an erection. Long distance cycling, or repeated regular cycling can also have a temporary effect by pressing on the nerves that lead to the penis.
4. Medicinal causes of erectile dysfunction
There are several medicines with side effects that can be causes of erectile dysfunction. These include:
- Diuretics (water tablets often given for blood pressure)
- Antihypertensives (blood pressure medication)
- Fibrates (cholesterol reducers)
- Antipsychotics / antidepressants
- Drugs to damp down the immune system
- Anticonvulsants (epilepsy medication)
If you suspect that the medications you are taking are the causes of erectile dysfunction, then it is always worth consulting your GP as an alternative may be available which will not have the same effect.
Causes and solutions
Erectile dysfunction causes a great deal of private anguish but it is a condition suffered by many men. It is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. If you suffer from erectile dysfunction, you should talk to your GP without delay. There may be a simple remedy to your problem, or it may be that the problem is an early warning for a much more significant cardio-vascular issue. Either way, if you do not seek help; you only risk making the problem worse by adding worry and stress.