Erectile dysfunction (ED) is something most men would rather not talk about. It can create self-doubt and reduce intimacy in your relationships. It may also be a symptom that something has gone awry with your overall health.
Occasional episodes of ED are common and most often related to stress, a long workday, or another temporary issue that’s relatively easy to overcome. Even persistent problems with ED are most often reversible with changes in habits, such as reducing your alcohol consumption, or medications designed to help you achieve and maintain a satisfying erection.
Eric K. Seaman, MD, is happy to use his medical expertise as a board-certified urologist to treat men experiencing problems with ED. He notes, though, that successful treatment requires identifying the underlying cause of your ED.
The basics of erectile dysfunction
Many men, and women, expect an erection to be a normal part of male sexual arousal that’s overall easy to achieve and maintain. In most cases, that’s true, and you don’t have to put a lot of effort into obtaining a successful erection.
But while you may not be aware of all the factors as they occur, achieving and sustaining an erection is a complex process. It requires cooperation between your brain, emotions, blood vessels, hormones, nerves, and muscles. If a step in the process misfires, erectile dysfunction results.
Worrying about whether you will satisfy your sexual partner, for instance, can create anxiety that shuts down the positive feelings you have about sex. This can interfere with the messaging between your brain and emotions and lead to ED.
The physical nature of male sexual arousal
An erection begins with mental stimulation, but there are also physical components required for a successful experience. When you become sexually aroused, penile nerves are stimulated and impulses flowing between the brain and penis cause penile muscles to relax.
This relaxation allows blood to flow in and fill open spaces in the penis (corpora cavernosa), which absorb the excess blood like a sponge. The extra blood volume creates pressure that causes the penis to expand and become erect. A tissue membrane (tunica albuginea) that surrounds the corpora cavernosa helps sustain your erection by trapping blood in the area.
The erection softens and reverses when muscles in the penis contract and stop blood from flowing into the penis while opening channels that allow blood to flow out of the corpora cavernosa and penis.
If nerves are not able to interact successfully with your brain, they aren’t able to stimulate the muscle contractions that must occur during an erection. If blood flow is decreased due to problems within your vessels, you may not achieve a satisfactory erection.
Health conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction
There are numerous potentially serious health conditions that can affect your ability to maintain and achieve an erection. Often, treating these issues can improve your overall health and reverse ED.
Health conditions commonly linked to ED include:
- Heart disease, clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis), and high blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol, which can clog blood vessels
- Diabetes, which can damage nerves and blood vessels
- Peyronie's disease, which causes the development of scar tissue inside the penis
Complications associated with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease also cause problems with ED. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, are known to affect your ability to achieve and maintain a satisfactory erection.
Certain medications, substance abuse, excessive alcohol use, and smoking may also increase your risk of developing ED. Surgeries to the pelvic region or spinal cord, as well as treatments for prostate cancer can also result in ED.
The good news about ED
There are many successful treatments available for this often frustrating condition. Treating the health conditions (such as diabetes) that can cause ED may also reverse the problem. Simply adding exercise to your daily routine can reduce the stress that might be responsible for your ED.
Don’t live with ED. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Seaman today for a frank discussion and evaluation regarding erectile dysfunction.