THE BAD NEWS
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the most common form of sexual dysfunction. Sadly, an estimated 18-30 million Americans are affected by ED.1
THE GOOD NEWS
Erectile dysfunction can be treated or even prevented simply by improving overall health. Also, many effective prescription treatments are available. Read on to understand what erectile dysfunction is, what causes erectile dysfunction, why good diet and exercise improve your sexual function, and what treatments are available.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction?
Simply defined erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to acquire or maintain an erection of sufficient rigidity or duration for sexual intercourse.
You see, the penis is like a hydraulic lift. Blood enters and pools in sponge-like areas of the penis called the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum. The more blood, the more lift. Anything that prevents blood from getting into or staying in the penis can cause erectile dysfunction.
What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?
Vascular problems, neural problems, and/or hormonal problems are the main culprits causing erectile dysfunction.
- Vascular Problems: If the blood vessels that supply blood needed to fill the penis during an erection become blocked or damaged, less blood fills the penis. Everything from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, smoking, and even inactivity can contribute to blockage and/or damage of penile blood vessels and hence erectile dysfunction.
- Neural Problems: Erections can come directly from the brain just by thinking about a beautiful woman or from touch as a reflex that doesn’t even require the brain. Men also have erections naturally 3-4 times each night during REM sleep. Damage to nerves going to or from the penis can cause erectile dysfunction. Also, psychiatric problems that affect the brain, like depression, can cause erectile dysfunction. Whether or not a man has nighttime erections is a good way to distinguish between the two.
- Hormonal Problems: Low testosterone is the most common hormonal cause of erectile dysfunction. Abnormal thyroid hormone levels and high prolactin levels are other possible hormonal causes of erectile dysfunction.
There are many other, less common, causes of erectile dysfunction that should be evaluated by your doctor if you are having problems getting or maintaining on erection.
What Can You Do About Erectile Dysfunction?
We’ve all seen those little blue pills, and they work. In fact, Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis all work just about equally as well, with Cialis lasting the longest. However, before you go ask your doctor for another medication, try to quit smoking, get some exercise, eat better, and treat your diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and other medical issues. If you don’t improve your overall health, eventually the medications will stop working. If the standard medications for erectile dysfunction aren’t working, there are other treatments available, including direct penile injections and penile implants. (See Nutrition and Exercise)
EMG Health Homepage: Men’s Health Introduction
External Resources: Mayo Clinic: Erectile Dysfunction