Causes of erectile dysfunction in men over 50

Why older men suffer from erectile dysfunction and what to do about it.


Men who are repeatedly unable to get an erection are said to be suffering from erectile dysfunction. The condition is often linked to aging with those over the age of 50 more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. But here’s some good news: the condition is not inevitable. Also referred to as impotence, it is linked to a series of medical diseases and lifestyle factors. By gaining a good understanding of the risk factors you could prevent or treat erectile dysfunction.

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The main causes of erectile dysfunction

There are two common causes of erectile dysfunction: atherosclerosis and diabetes, both of which alter the blood flow to the penis.

Atherosclerosis describes a condition whereby plaque made from calcium, cholesterol, and fat builds up inside the arteries. Over time, the plaque becomes stiff and hardens, clogging up the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a series condition that can lead to stroke or heart attack when the blood carrying oxygen is no longer able to reach the brain or the heart. Aging is a risk factor of atherosclerosis because over time the arteries lose flexibility. Patients at higher risk of developing atherosclerosis also include those with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, heavy drinking, being overweight and eating an unhealthy diet have been found to contribute to plaque build-up.

Diabetes is another common reason for impotence. In fact, over 50% of diabetics experience erectile dysfunction. Diabetes can occur at any age, but those over the age of 50 have a higher risk of developing the disease. When blood sugar levels get too high in diabetics, blood flow to the penis and the nervous system is disrupted. This can result in erectile dysfunction.

Lifestyle changes can help to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis or diabetes. These include stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, reducing alcohol intake, exercising regularly and losing weight if you’re obese.


Complications of erectile dysfunction

The complications of erectile dysfunction are less commonly talked about, but according to an 

analysis of over 150,000 individuals, impotence could be an important indicator of cardiovascular disease. In other words, if you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction it could predict the risk for heart complications in the future. These findings confirm an earlier report by the American Medical Association which tracked over 4,000 men over the age of 55 for five years. They found that 57% had developed erectile dysfunction and their risk of heart disease had doubled. Blood vessels in the penis are narrower; therefore, they may be the first to become blocked by plaque build-up.

If you have symptoms of erectile dysfunction, it’s important to get screened for other conditions to monitor your risk of cardiovascular disease. Many men choose to ignore these early warning signs yet getting an early diagnosis could be life-saving.

Aside from medical causes, there are psychosomatic as well as substance-related causes of erectile dysfunction. These include depression, stress and high levels of anxiety. Certain medications including antihistamines and antidepressants, illegal substances and heavy alcohol consumption may also lead to impotence.



  1. Yafi, F., Jenkins, L., Albersen, M., Corona, G., Isidori, A., Goldfarb, S., & Maggi, M. et al. (2016). Erectile dysfunction. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 2/1.
  2. Najari, B., & Kashanian, J. (2016). Erectile Dysfunction. JAMA, 316/17: 1838. DOI:
  3. Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction. (2001). Clinical Diabetes, 19/1: 48-48. DOI:
  4. Gore, J. & Rajfer, J. Diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Current sexual health reports. (2004) 1: 87.
  5. Zhao, B., Hong, Z., Wei, Y., Yu, D., Xu, J., & Zhang, W. (2019). Erectile Dysfunction Predicts Cardiovascular Events as an Independent Risk Factor: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16/7: 1005-1017. DOI:
  6. Thompson, I. (2005). Erectile Dysfunction and Subsequent Cardiovascular Disease. JAMA, 294/23: 2996. DOI:

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