What Is Erectile Dysfunction and What Causes It?

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a physical condition in which it is difficult to obtain or keep an erection that is firm enough to participate in sexual intercourse. ED is commonly referred to as impotence. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 30 million American men are impacted by this condition.

While it is not necessarily concerning for men to experience occasional issues with getting or keeping an erection, problems that continue over time may be a sign of ED or another underlying health concern.

While many people may be embarrassed to discuss ED, it is essential for people to let their doctor know right away if they notice a change in their ability to get or keep an erection. Without proper treatment, ED can impact self-esteem, relationships, and other areas of your life. Adequate diagnosis and a treatment plan can certainly bring peace of mind and hope for the future.

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

Sexual arousal for men involves several critical areas of the body including:

  • Brain
  • Hormones
  • Emotions
  • Blood Vessels
  • Muscles Nerves

Because all of this is incredibly linked, ED can be a result of issues in any of these key areas. Typically, causes can be classified as either physical or emotional issues.

Physical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Multiple physical conditions and choices could lead to ED. Common concerns may include:

  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Obesity.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Tobacco use.
  • Excessive alcohol use.
  • Certain medications.
  • Spinal cord surgeries.

There are few correlations between STIs and erectile dysfunction that should be considered as well.

Sexually transmitted diseases may manifest with a variety of symptoms. For example, bacterial infections such as Chlamydia infections or gonorrhea may cause pain, inflammation of the urethra, and an abnormal discharge. All of these symptoms will have a negative impact on erections.

Also, early symptoms of HIV infection include fatigue, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. As the disease progresses (and may lead to AIDS),  the immune system is further damaged, and other symptoms like shaking chills and fever, headaches, blurred vision, various secondary infections, and depression or other mental/emotional issues occur.

All these symptoms can easily decrease one’s sex drive and the ability to achieve or maintain an erection.

Emotional Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

However, not all causes of ED are physical. In fact, emotions play a critical role in the ability to perform sexually. Common emotional concerns may include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Stress.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Relationship problems.

Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction

The earliest signs of ED may consist of:

  • Difficulty getting an erection.
  • Trouble keeping an erection.
  • Low libido.

Symptoms closely associated with ED include:

  • Difficulty ejaculating.
  • Inability to ejaculate.
  • Anorgasmia, the inability to orgasm.
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Of course, signs like this can be a regular part of life. A simple tip is to track your symptoms and see if there is a pattern or consistency. Usually, medical professions become concerned if symptoms last longer than two months.

It should also be noted; research indicates that age plays a critical role in ED and usually, and 30 percent of ED cases are men over the age of 70. However, younger men can also be impacted by the condition.

How Is Erectile Dysfunction Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of ED can be accomplished through a simple medical consultation and physical exam.  Your doctor may simply ask a few questions and create an initial treatment plan based on your responses. However, because ED can be linked to underlying health conditions, you may also have to undergo additional testing such as ultrasounds, blood tests, urine tests, and a psychological exam.

Nocturnal Penile Tumescence (NPT) Test

In some instances, your doctor may elect to run an NPT test to evaluate nighttime erections. Essentially, a battery-powered device is attached to the thigh and evaluates nocturnal erections which occur naturally in a healthy penis. The data is stored and evaluated by the doctor to determine if the patient falls into a reasonable range of activity.  This could be the first step in understanding ED and which treatment option is right for you.

Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help with the symptoms of ED. There are several medications to choose from, and results vary patient-to-patient. Some people have to experiment with different drugs before finding the right one that works. While this can be a frustrating process, medications react differently for individuals, so it’s important to work through the challenges of finding the one that is right for your situation.

Keep in mind, each of the medications has a series of side effects which should be discussed with your doctor. Never purchase prescription medications without a proper prescription and with the oversight of your medical provider.

Common ED medications include:

  • Caverject
  • Stendra
  • Viagra
  • Cialis
  • Testosterone
  • Levitra

Because ED can also be linked to psychological issues, talk therapy may also be an excellent option for some people. Your doctor will be able to offer some guidance on whether or not your condition is physical or emotional.

Can You Prevent Erectile Dysfunction?

In some instances, ED occurs no matter what your lifestyle choices may be. However, living a healthy lifestyle and working closely with your doctor to manage your health can certainly go a long way in preserving your sex life.

Early diagnosis of ED can also help control the symptoms and help you find a treatment plan that works for you.

The Bottom Line…

ED is more common than many people think. While this condition may be the source of embarrassment and stress, there are options available.

If you suspect you may be suffering from ED symptoms, then reach out to your doctor for more information. Proper diagnosis could offer a treatment plan and rule out other serious health concerns.

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