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Understanding the Fundamentals of Erectile Dysfunction

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Written by

Science & Humans

Medically approved by

Medically approved by

Maria Jacob

Last updated

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

What is Erectile Dysfunction? What are the causes? Is it a treatable condition?

More than 100 million men suffer from Erectile Dysfunction worldwide, yet it remains one of the least talked about medical conditions, and unfortunately, most men choose to suffer in silence.

Although the risk of ED increases with age, ED is not inevitable as you get older. It may be more difficult to get an erection as you age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop ED. In general, the healthier you are, the better your sexual function.

Keep reading to learn more about this condition and how you can best manage it

What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get or keep an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. It is also referred to as impotence.

Occasional ED is not uncommon and can be often triggered during times of stress. However, frequent ED can be a sign of underlying health conditions that may need medical attention. It can also be caused by emotional or physiological problems that may need to be addressed by a professional.

What causes an erection?

An erection is the result of increased blood flow into your penis. Blood flow is usually stimulated by either sexual thoughts or direct contact with your penis.

When a man becomes sexually excited, muscles in their penis relax. This relaxation allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This blood fills two chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. As the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows rigid. Erection ends when the muscles contract and the accumulated blood can flow out through the penile veins.

ED can occur because of problems at any stage of the erection process. For example, the penile arteries may be too damaged to open properly and allow blood in.

What causes Erectile Dysfunction?

There are many possible causes for ED, and they can include both emotional and physical disorders. That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor so that they can rule out or treat any underlying medical conditions.

Some common causes are:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • hyperlipidemia
  • damage from cancer or surgery
  • injuries
  • obesity or being overweight
  • increased age
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • relationship problems
  • drug use
  • alcohol use
  • smoking

Is ED a treatable medical condition?

Treatment for depends upon the underlying cause. You may also need to use a combination of treatments, including medication, lifestyle changes, or therapy. Once you’ve determined the cause for your ED, you and your doctor can decide on a form of treatment – here are some of the options:

  • Erectile Dysfunction Drugs – Medications like sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra) stimulate blood flow to the penis, enabling you to achieve an erection. These drugs need to be taken prior to engaging in sexual activity.
  • Psychotherapy – For psychological causes of erectile dysfunction, psychotherapy can be beneficial. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular method because it helps address negative patterns of thought that can contribute to performance anxiety.
  • Vacuum Constriction Devices – An alternative to oral medications, vacuum constriction devices can create an erection using vacuum pressure – once an erection develops, a constriction band is placed around the base of the penis to maintain the erection.
  • Surgery – One of the more invasive treatments for erectile dysfunction, surgical options exist as well. Inflatable devices or malleable rods can be surgically implanted on either side of the penis to help achieve an erection.
  • Lifestyle Changes – In cases where lifestyle factors such as obesity, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise play into erectile dysfunction, making healthy changes to your lifestyle may resolve the underlying conditions causing your symptoms.

What can you do next?

Erectile dysfunction may be an unpleasant condition that no one really wants to talk about, failing to acknowledge it won’t make the problem go away. Your best course of action against this health problem is to equip yourself with as much information as possible, so you can tackle the problem at the root.

If you have experienced erectile issues or you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, it may be worth making a trip to your doctor’s office. With your doctor’s help, you can determine the best course of treatment to restore sexual function.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Science&Humans. They are for informational purposes only, and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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