What causes erectile dysfunction?

Getting and maintaining an erection can be difficult due to a number of causes. While erectile problems may be hard to talk about it is important to get help from your doctor and make some lifestyle changes.


Getting and maintaining an erection can be difficult due to a number of causes. While erectile problems may be hard to talk about it is important to get help from your doctor and make some lifestyle changes.


What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, also known as ED, is when you have trouble getting and keeping an erection. It is an important issue to address as it can impact relationships, self-esteem and cause worry. If you have erectile dysfunction you are not alone - 40% of men at 40 and 70% of men at 70 experience this problem. 

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What causes an erection?

Before we can understand sexual dysfunction we need to briefly know about what causes erections in the first place. 4 main elements need to work together in a coordinated manner:

  1. Normal brain function. The brain should send signals to nerves when we feel aroused.
  2. Normal nerve function. Nerves need to communicate between the brain and the penis during the process.
  3. Normal blood vessel function. Once nerves have released chemical mediators, the blood vessels should dilate and flow to the spongy tissues of the penis should increase causing an erection.
  4. Normal hormone function. Hormones such as testosterone regulate this process.


What causes erectile dysfunction?

If anything disrupts the normal cycle of events as above an erection can’t happen. The main cause of erectile dysfunction is usually physical. Psychogenic causes are more common in those who are younger and have erectile issues.  


Erectile dysfunction and heart disease.

ED is associated with cardiovascular disease. The blood vessels that supply the penis are fine and easily affected by the formation of plaques in atherosclerosis and high blood pressure which damages these vessels. Often erectile dysfunction occurs before a potentially serious event such as a stroke or a heart attack so it is important to address issues underlying erectile problems.


Erectile dysfunction and diabetes.

Diabetes damages nerves and fine blood vessels making erectile dysfunction more likely. Obesity and metabolic syndrome as a result of obesity (involving high blood pressure, insulin resistance and high cholesterol) also contribute to erectile dysfunction. 


Recreational drugs that cause ED.

Some experts argue that a single use of recreational drugs may be enough to damage normal sexual function. Chronic use of substance abuse increases risks further. The following list of drugs and reasons that they can cause male impotence is not exhaustive:

  • Alcohol. Alcohol causes erectile dysfunction as it suppresses the central nervous system and dampens your mood. 
  • Smoking. Smoking causes ED because it raises blood pressure, not to mention the chemicals released by smoking impacting blood vessels. 
  • Other drugs. Amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, barbiturates, opiates and methadone work through various mechanisms to cause ED. 


Prescription drugs that cause ED

Prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs can prevent normal blood flow, dampen libido contributing to erectile dysfunction and cause also problems in ejaculation. Below is a non-exhaustive list.SSRIs

  • NSAIDs
  • Antihypertensive drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Antihistamines
  • Antifungals

It is important to address these issues with your doctor. Do not quit a medication cold turkey without seeking medical advice. 


The Impact of Lifestyle on erectile dysfunction 

As we have seen there are several conditions that can cause ED. These conditions are largely due to modifiable risk factors, ones that we can change through a good diet, physical activity and avoiding recreational drugs. One question we commonly hear is can lack of sleep cause ED? Yes, it can. Feeling emotionally low and tired does not do wonders for your libido. Furthermore, once patients are treated for sleep apnea they are less likely to have erectile problems and are more likely to have an improved sex life.


Erectile dysfunction treatments

You may be wondering if there is a natural cure for erectile dysfunction. The best is a combination of a healthy diet and exercise that will help to stop the progression of atherosclerosis, reduce obesity, lower blood pressure and prevent diabetes, all of which will reduce the likelihood of sexual dysfunction. 

Make sure you are not deficient in any vitamins for example low vitamin D may contribute to depression and as a result poor erectile function. Consider eating fish and getting enough sunlight. Vitamin C helps to improve blood flow. Citrus fruits such as oranges have vitamin C. 

Alternatively, medications for erectile dysfunction can help. Drugs such as Viagra, Adcirca, Cialis, Levitra and others can be taken in pill form to treat ED. Currently, the FDA has not approved cream for erectile dysfunction.

Furthermore, psychological therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT can help to address underlying issues of self-confidence and tackle performance anxiety which may be a barrier to you to get erections.  

Certain devices called vacuum constriction devices help to create an erection using vacuum pressure. When an erection develops a band is put at the base of the penis to keep the erection going. 

Erectile dysfunction surgeries are also an option that may involve inserting inflatable devices that help achieve an erection.


What to do next?

Make changes to have a healthier lifestyle and speak to your doctor to find out about the underlying issues that can be causing your ED. Remember to tell your doctor about your symptom severity, frequency and onset as well as any drugs you may be on so they can work through the best options for you. There are many treatment options available for ED. Remember that erectile dysfunction is a rough guide that there are underlying issues such as cardiovascular disease so it is better to get checked early. 




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