Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection more than 50% of the time. If you suffer from it, you are not alone. It is a common condition and can occur at any age. However, it is most common as men get older, and it is estimated that half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 have experienced it to some degree. We take a closer look at erectile dysfunction causes…ED may affect physical and psychosocial health and can have a significant impact on the quality of life of sufferers and their partners.
What are Erectile Dysfunction Causes?
Erectile dysfunction causes – ED is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of other problems, broadly based into two categories – physical or psychological causes. First, it’s useful to know how an erection occurs to then understand the problems. The brain sends signals through nerves, causing vessels around the penis to expand, this increases blood flow to the penis, leading to an erection.
Physical causes occur due to a reduced blood flow to the penis. Causes include obesity, diabetes, hormone abnormalities, heart disease or trauma to the penis. This can be due to general lifestyle factors too, such as a poor diet, smoking or excessive alcohol intake. Ageing itself causes narrowing of the blood vessels, hence why erectile dysfunction is much more common in older men.
Nervous System causes
These are often related to nervousness about having sex, but other significant factors such as stress, depression or guilt can lead to ED too. Other medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or a stroke.
If you’ve had surgery or had any significant injury to your pelvic region this may lead to erectile dysfunction. Sometimes medications may cause erection problems as an unwanted side effect.
Don’t suffer in silence
If you are under 40, a non-smoker, relatively fit and healthy with no heart or stroke problems affecting the family before the age of 55, ED is much less likely to be caused from a lack of blood flow. However, ED could be an early warning sign that there could be a physical problem. It may be a sign of a more serious diseases in the future such as a heart attack of stroke.
ED shares common risk factors with cardiovascular disease and is a valuable marker of cardiovascular risk, particularly in younger men and men with diabetes. Studies have shown that ED can be used to identify men who require early intervention to prevent CVD.
A physical cause that tends to affect younger men more often is a condition known as hypogonadism – which occurs with persistent low hormone levels. To help differentiate causes, a doctor will ask about your sexual history including about your erections.
ED is a topic often not discussed. However, it is a common condition that can seriously affect a man’s confidence, and sex relationships. There are many different treatments that have been shown to work; however, it is important to consider the causes of why you have ED too.
Edited by Dr Kiran Sodha & The Doctor Service
- Guidelines on Male Sexual Dysfunction: Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation; European Association of Urology (2015)
- Melnik T, Soares BG, Nasello AG; The effectiveness of psychological interventions for the treatment of erectile dysfunction: systematic review and meta-analysis, including comparisons to sildenafil treatment, intracavernosal injection, and vacuum devices. J Sex Med. 2008 Nov 5(11):2562-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00872.x. Epub 2008 Jun 17.
- Nehra A, Jackson G, Miner M, et al; Diagnosis and Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction for Reduction of Cardiovascular Risk. J Urol. 2013 Jan 9. pii: S0022-5347(13)00009-8. doi: 10.1016/j.j
- nice.org.uk. (2017). Erectile dysfunction – NICE CKS. [online] Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/erectile-dysfunction