Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man can’t achieve or sustain an erection in order to have sexual intercourse. It is very common, with over three million cases reported annually in the United States.
There is no single cause of erectile dysfunction, which can sometimes make identifying the source of the problem difficult. A number of factors, including drinking too much, stress, chronic illness, fatigue, a strained relationship, low self-confidence, and medication, can contribute.
ED is more common among older men. It can happen on occasion, or it can be more persistent. In some cases, it is a sign of a physiological or psychological condition or a warning sign of future heart problems. Treatment for ED depends largely on the cause.
If you believe you are suffering from ED, you should speak to your doctor. Though it may be embarrassing, treatment can help.
What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?
Sexual arousal is a complicated process. In both women and men, it involves a combination of efforts from the nervous, circulatory, endocrine, and musculoskeletal systems. Complex emotions, stress, and mental health issues make sexual arousal even more delicate—all of these factors can aggravate or trigger erectile dysfunction.
In many cases, a combination of psychological and physiological factors contribute to the difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. For instance, having a health condition might cause anxiety surrounding your ability to hold an erection. This anxiety can lead to more difficulties and ultimately impede an erection.
There are two main types of causes of erectile dysfunction. These include:
- Physical causes. In the majority of cases, something physical is behind ED. The most common causes include heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, clogged blood vessels, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, prescription medication, alcoholism, tobacco, sleep disorders, prostate cancer treatments, or Peyronie’s disease.
- Psychological causes. In order to have an erection, your brain has to trigger a series of actions. This trigger begins with feelings of attraction or sexual excitement. But a number of health conditions can interfere with these feelings. These include: stress, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, or relationship problems.
Who Is At Risk?
A number of factors put you at risk of developing ED. These include:
- Medical conditions. Diabetes and heart disease are two examples of health conditions that can cause ED.
- Tobacco use. Over time, tobacco has an effect on your circulatory system, restricting the flow of blood from the veins and arteries. This can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
- Being overweight. Obesity is a common source of erectile dysfunction.
- Injuries. Especially damage to the nerves or arteries that control erections.
- Medical treatments. Undergoing prostate surgery or radiation therapy can contribute to ED.
- Medication. A number of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including high blood pressure medication, antidepressants, and antihistamines, may make it more difficult to have or maintain an erection.
- Mental health issues, including addiction. Stress, anxiety, depression, or prolonged drug or alcohol use can contribute to ED.
- Excessive cycling. Biking for long periods of time can result in compressed nerves, which reduces blood flow to the penis.