Causes of erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is the inability to get or maintain an erection sufficient to have successful sexual intercourse.
What causes erectile dysfunction?
To get or maintain an erection, you need a healthy blood supply, a healthy nervous system and sexual desire. Various medical and psychological conditions can affect all these aspects of your sex life and thus result in erectile dysfunction. It’s important to realise that some medical conditions may present themselves as erectile dysfunction (ED). If you are over 40 years old and have ED, then you have an 80% chance of having an underlying medical condition. Here's a guide to some of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction:
Physical causes of erectile dysfunction
Narrowing blood vessels
High blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes can all result in narrowed blood vessels. ED can be the first sign of these conditions and so testing for them, especially in men over 40, is important. Men who have angina or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) often have difficulties with ED as well; this is because the same hardening that goes on in the heart’s blood vessels goes on in the penile blood vessels.
Sometimes a hormone imbalance can cause ED. This is more common in someone who feels unwell in other ways (such as sudden weight gain or weight loss) or in someone who has very little libido (sexual desire). Sometimes, however, erectile dysfunction can be the only symptom of a hormonal problem.
There are many conditions that affect the nerve supply. For example, men who have had spinal trauma, who are paraplegic or those with more widespread nerve problems such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis can often experience erectile dysfunction. In these situations, the nerve problem is obvious before the ED is noticed. In addition, following surgery such as radical prostatectomy, nerves are cut as part of the operation and this can then causes erectile dysfunction.
Changes in the actual penis structure can make getting an erection difficult. Peyronie’s (a bending in the erect penis), phimosis (a tight foreskin) or a tight frenulum (the elastic piece of skin that joins the foreskin to the shaft of the penis) can all cause of erectile dysfunction.
Some commonly prescribed drugs can cause ED. Medication for depression, psychotic illness, heart conditions, blood pressure and prostate conditions are all potentially implicated. However, these drugs are given for serious conditions so you should talk to your doctor before stopping or changing them. Excessive alcohol and recreational drug use can also cause ED.
Psychological conditions & erectile dysfunction
As well as physical causes, there are many psychological reasons for erectile dysfunction. For example, men with depression, guilt or anxiety often experience ED. Similarly, in periods of stress (such as unemployment or being over-worked), your libido may be reduced. This results in a loss of both the desire to have sex and the ability to obtain an erection. And, of course, struggling to get an erection can bring on yet more stress, so often ED has a mixed medical and psychological cause which creates a negative spiral.
Lifestyle factors linked to erectile dysfunction
There are several lifestyle factors that can contribute to ED. Erectile dysfunction is more often found in men who are overweight, unfit and/or smokers, as well as in men who drink heavily or use illegal drugs.
Whatever the cause, erectile dysfunction medication can help. However even if you have success with ED medication (such as Viagra), you need to have the underlying causes of your ED investigated by your GP.
Erectile dysfunction treatments
Our NHS-experienced clinicians are able to assess your ED and prescribe you treatments such as Viagra and Cialis without the need for a face-to-face appointment. You can purchase erectile dysfunction medicines from our online clinic.
For more information, see ED treatments.