The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 30 million men are affected by erectile dysfunction (ED) – persistent problems with getting or maintaining an erection. This problem becomes more common as men age, affecting about 40% of men over 50, according to recent studies.
A Symptom of Something Serious?
ED is quite common and can affect men of any age. In addition to interfering with sex, ED can be a sign of an underlying health condition. That’s because ED is, in many cases, a problem of blood flow. Restricted blood flow to the penis may signal a more widespread problem, such as:
- Atherosclerosis, when plaque accumulates in and narrows arteries
- Chronic kidney disease
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Nerve disorders, such as multiple sclerosis
“It’s important to speak with your physician if you frequently experience difficulty with erections,” said Eric Webb, MD, urologist at Urology Associates of Archbold. “We want to not only help you overcome ED but also address these underlying causes, which can have greater impacts on your health beyond sexual functioning.”
Other Causes of ED
“In addition to health conditions, medications that restrict blood flow to the penis or affect nearby nerves can affect men’s ability to have erections,” Dr. Webb said. “ED can also be a complication caused by scar tissue from an injury or surgery.”
Lifestyle factors, including being overweight, smoking, drinking alcohol and illegal drug use, can also contribute. In a small number of cases, ED is caused by low levels of testosterone.
“Getting and maintaining an erection is as much a mental process as a physical one,” Dr. Webb added. “For this reason, emotional issues such as depression, anxiety and stress can also be to blame for ED.”
You may think a prescription medicine is your only option for treating ED, but that’s not the case – in fact, a prescription drug may not be the first (or second) form of treatment your physician recommends. Nonpharmaceutical options include:
- Alcohol reduction. To maintain general health, men should stick with two drinks per day. You may need to cut back to one (or fewer) or stop drinking entirely, as alcohol consumption can lead to ED.
- Heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Exercising regularly and losing excess weight can boost cardiovascular health. That’s important because healthy blood flow to the penis is essential to get and keep an erection. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or light cycling, per week.
- Medication modification. ED can be a side effect of certain drugs. If you’re taking a medicine that can cause ED, your physician may change your dose or prescribe an alternative drug.
- Quality sleep. Studies show that men who suffer from sleep deprivation have significantly lower levels of testosterone, which can lead to depression, obesity, loss of muscle mass, lack of libido and erectile dysfunction.
- Smoking cessation. Smoking can hinder blood flow throughout the body, including the penis.
- Stress management. Stress can contribute to ED. If you’re stressed, make time each day for something you find relaxing or enjoyable. You may find it helpful to speak with a behavioral health professional, too.
- Surgery. You may undergo a procedure to insert a prosthetic device called a penile implant to produce an erection.
- Vacuum erection device. This device goes over the penis and helps draw blood into it to get an erection.
- Penile injections. These prescription medications are injected directly into the penis to get an erection.
The physicians at Urology Associates of Archbold are here to help. Call 229.228.5500 to schedule an appointment or visit archbold.org/urology to learn more.