What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

While achieving an erection may be something that many men take for granted, erectile dysfunction is quite common. Known as ED or impotence, erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve an erection. Erectile dysfunction may also refer to the inability to sustain an erection for sexual intercourse. While erectile dysfunction may occur in just 5% of men who are 40 years old, that percentage can climb with age.

Despite being a relatively common occurrence, erectile dysfunction is not something that men should have to live with permanently. To better understand and treat erectile dysfunction, it is important to have a better understanding of what causes erectile dysfunction as well as the most common causes among men who suffer from erectile dysfunction.

What Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

While there are several physical conditions, lifestyle factors, and psychological issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction, it is important to remember that it occurs in the same way whatever the root cause. The following four causes are the physical obstacles that prevent an erection and can lead to erectile dysfunction.

• The nerves leading to the penis are not functioning properly.

To avoid erectile dysfunction, a properly functioning nervous system is integral. Nerve diseases are a near guarantee of erectile dysfunction among older men. Some of the more common nervous system diseases that lead to erectile dysfunction include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and injuries to the spinal cord. Nerve damage causes erectile dysfunction because, without the creation of neurotransmitters, the penis chamber won’t fill with blood and sustain an erection.

• There is no stimulation from the brain.

While many of the root causes of erectile dysfunction are physical, this is a more psychological concern. Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction may have negative thoughts during sexual intercourse, or they may have had a bad sexual experience in the past. Erectile dysfunction may be classed as at least partially psychological if the man is still able to achieve involuntary erections while sleeping or immediately upon waking.

• There is inadequate blood circulation leading to the penis.

Many doctors consider a lack of adequate blood circulation to be the biggest contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Vascular disease, or any condition that negatively affects the body’s circulation system, is often related to lifestyle factors. Erectile dysfunction caused by inadequate blood circulation may be present among men who also have heart conditions like peripheral artery disease, an artery blockage, or who have recently had a stroke or a heart attack. If the circulation system can’t rapidly pump blood to the penis as needed, then erectile dysfunction will likely be at least a peripheral problem for men.

• The veins in the penis are not able to retain blood.

Even if there is adequate blood circulation leading to the penis, erectile dysfunction can still occur. If the veins in the penis cannot sufficiently close, then there is not enough pressure to sustain an erection. This may lead to consistent erectile dysfunction or it can lead to problems maintaining an erection for the duration of sexual intercourse.

Most Common Causes of Erectile Dysfunction


Common Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Listed above are the four root causes of erectile dysfunction. However, it is incredibly rare for a man to encounter all of those problems at once, and they are certainly not all equally common. When exploring the causes of erectile dysfunction in an individual, it may help to start by ruling out the most common causes. The following physical and psychological concerns are the most common reasons that erectile dysfunction occurs.

• Diabetes

With an increasing number of men suffering from both Type I and Type II diabetes, there is no question that it can be a significant cause of erectile dysfunction. Diabetes, which is caused by problems creating or regulating insulin in the body, can affect both the nerve endings that receive pleasurable sensations and the blood vessels that are needed for an erection. Thankfully, controlling diabetes with the right medication, diet or exercise can go a long way in preventing or even eliminating erectile dysfunction.

• Recent Surgeries

After having any kind of inpatient or outpatient surgery, the chance of suffering from erectile dysfunction, at least temporarily, will increase. In men who have had surgery for bladder or prostate cancer, however, the length of time that sexual performance might be hindered could be longer. It is not uncommon for patients who have had prostate or bladder surgery to require up to a year to regain full control of their erections.

• Depression

While several psychological causes can lead to erectile dysfunction, depression is one of the most common. Sexual excitement starts with stimulation in the brain, and depression can reduce or eliminate that in some men. Dealing with any depression is an obvious treatment plan for someone with erectile dysfunction, but it is important to also look at medications prescribed for depression. Unfortunately, some medications meant to aid with depression also reduce the libido and may continue the erectile dysfunction.

• Alcohol Consumption

If erectile dysfunction is occasional rather than chronic, then it may be tied to excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking just a few alcoholic beverages can interfere with the ability to maintain an erection. Thankfully, this kind of erectile dysfunction is typically resolved the day after drinking.

• Medications

Men who have recently encountered signs of erectile dysfunction may want to look to the medicine cabinet for answers. Commonly prescribed medicines for things ranging from high blood pressure to cholesterol can affect both libido and circulation, leading to erectile dysfunction. Speaking to a physician can help patients to find an alternative medicine that won’t affect their erections or sexual pleasure.

• Stress

Stress affects the body in a myriad of ways. It can lead to high blood pressure, restless nights, and even greater susceptibility to various diseases. Whether stress is caused by work, financial issues, or personal relationships, it can be a significant hindrance to sexual intercourse.

• Hormonal Imbalance

A leading cause of erectile dysfunction in men over the age of 40 is a hormonal imbalance. While the male body contains many hormones, the primary one that causes issues is testosterone. Having a low amount of testosterone in the body can lead to higher overall body weight, a lack of libido, and circulation problems, all of which can easily lead to erectile dysfunction in men.

• Smoking

Men who smoke cigarettes or cigars regularly, particularly for an extended period, may eventually suffer from damaged or weakened blood vessels. This can cause a variety of health problems in the body, not least of which is erectile dysfunction. Even those who have smoked for decades, however, can see an almost immediate improvement in their sex lives after quitting the habit.

• Performance Anxiety

Another common psychological cause of erectile dysfunction is performance anxiety. A lack of self-confidence when beginning a sexual encounter may lead to erectile dysfunction, and that unsuccessful experience may further feed feelings of performance anxiety. Breaking the cycle may be a challenge, but it is vital for men to once again achieve and maintain erections to fully enjoy sexual experiences with their partners.

• Obesity

Worldwide, there are more than 1.4 billion men who are overweight and more than 200 million men who are obese. Having a significant amount of additional fat on the body can lead to several health problems like diabetes, hardened or blocked arteries, sluggishness, and high blood pressure. Each of these symptoms of obesity, in turn, can cause erectile dysfunction. Obese men with erectile dysfunction can often see immediate improvements in their sex life simply by removing themselves from the obese category for body weight.

• High Cholesterol

As they age, men may be more likely to have high cholesterol. Having high cholesterol, and in particular high levels of LDL cholesterol, can be a primary factor in suffering from erectile dysfunction. The good news for men that have both erectile dysfunction and high cholesterol levels is that adjusting basic lifestyle factors can have a hugely positive impact on both. While high cholesterol may be caused by inactivity, a poor diet, and obesity, it can also be reversed by consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber as well as starting a regular exercise routine and trying to lose weight.

There is no single cause for erectile dysfunction. The inability to achieve or sustain an erection can be caused by a whole host of physical as well as psychological factors. Men who are suffering from erectile dysfunction should aim to pinpoint the root cause of their condition to pick the most appropriate treatment method.


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