Is ED a natural part of ageing?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is defined by the inability to attain an erection sufficient for sex. Though a medical condition in itself, it’s more useful to think of ED as a symptom. This is because there are many different diseases and conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction (some of which can be very serious). If the specific cause can be singled out then the ED may be more easy to resolve.
At what age does ED typically start?
ED is not a condition that any man wants to deal with. Unfortunately, by the time the average man reaches 40, it’s very likely that they will go on to experience ED over the next few decades of their life.
Does ED get worse with age?
It's estimated that 50% of all men aged between 40 and 70 suffer from impotence to some degree and for that reason, it’s a perfectly natural part of ageing.
What causes ED in older males?
There are numerous physical and psychological conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction – no matter what your age. However, a significant number of these conditions tend to be more prevalent in older men. This is simply because as we age, our general health tends to get worse meaning we become more susceptible to illness.
Cardiovascular disease is a term referring to a collection of diseases related to the heart and blood vessels.
Cardiovascular disease can result from smoking, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. It often leads to impotence because it affects blood flow to the penis, either through blood clots or the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. When blood cannot flow to the penis, an erection becomes impossible.
Diabetes is another leading cause of impotence, and in the UK, the majority of people who suffer from diabetes are aged between 50 and 80. Diabetes can lead to erectile dysfunction when it is poorly controlled, as it damages the blood vessels and nervous system. This damage can affect blood flow and reduce sensitivity in the sexual organs.
Neurogenic conditions are diseases affecting the nervous system. They include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke – all of which normally develop in middle age or later.
Psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety can cause impotence (as can certain medicines used to treat these conditions). Emotional issues in a relationship can also lead to ED. If you are an older man with a long-term partner it is possible that dwindling sexual attraction or tensions in the relationship could be the cause of your erectile dysfunction.
There are a number of medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction. Because older men tend to take more prescription medicines than younger men, they can be more susceptible to this kind of impotence. Medicines that can cause ED include diuretics, beta-blockers, and anti-depressants. If you are concerned about ED, speak to your doctor and consult your Patient Information leaflet when you are prescribed any new medicine.
Erectile dysfunction treatments for older men
The treatments for erectile dysfunction are largely the same across all age groups. Typically, the underlying cause of the ED will be targeted (whether physical or psychological) and in the short term, PDE-5 inhibitors such as Viagra will be prescribed. However, as you get older it becomes more important to keep in good health generally.
Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, reducing stress and cutting back on alcohol can be very helpful in improving your general health and thereby helping to resolve your erectile dysfunction. However, it’s important to bear in mind that putting too much strain on your body is not advised. Start with small, manageable changes and go from there.
One thing that older men should be aware of is the fact that certain medicines can negatively interact with Viagra and other ED tablets. Viagra can also be risky for men with cardiovascular disease, however in some cases the benefits of an improved sex life can be seen to outweigh the risks.
If you take prescription medicines that contain nitrates then you should not take Viagra or any other PDE-5 inhibitors such as Cialis or sildenafil. It is also not recommended that you take ED tablets if you are taking alpha-blockers or if you have recently had a stroke or heart attack.
As long as you obtain ED tablets legally from your GP or a trusted source such as LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, you will not be prescribed anything you cannot take safely. Just remember to be completely open about your medical history and list all of the medicines you are taking.