According to NHS statistics, around 50% of men between the ages of 40 to 70 will experience erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives. Whilst for some, the condition may be only be mild or temporary, for others it can be severe, and can cause anxiety and even depression.
Erectile Dysfunction: The Facts
An erection occurs when a man becomes aroused, and is due to the brain transmitting signals to the nerves in his penis. The nerves help to increase blood flow to the area, which in turn, causes the tissue to expand and become hard – what we term an ‘erection.’
If something interferes with these nerve messages or interrupts the flow of blood to the penis, this results in a lack of erection, or erectile dysfunction. There are a number of reasons why this may happen, and the vast majority are physical, rather than psychological.
Potential Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
There are a number of reasons why you may experience erectile dysfunction. Potential causes include:
- If you injure your penis, this can cause erectile dysfunction. The same can also happen if you experience significant impact to the head; indeed, this occurs in approximately 10 to 15% of people who suffer some form of head injury.
- High blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can interfere with the flow of blood to the penis, which can result in problems developing or maintaining an erection.
- Diabetes, which is caused by elevated blood sugar levels, can have an adverse effect on both the flow of blood to the penis, and also the nerve endings.
- Erectile dysfunction is a common side-effect of suffering a stroke. Spinal injury can also sometimes cause erectile problems.
- Neurogenic conditions. Neurogenic diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, both affect the brain. This in turn can cause impairment to the nervous system, preventing the ‘arousal signals’ from reaching the penis.
- Hormonal conditions. Hormonal conditions, such as an under or over-active thyroid, can also cause erectile issues.
In addition to this, certain medications can interfere with normal functioning of the penis, particularly beta-blockers and some anti-depressants. Less commonly, erectile dysfunction can also be triggered by psychological conditions, such as depression or low libido.
There are a number of treatments available for those suffering with erectile dysfunction. One of the most popular options are phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors such as Viagra, which increase the blood flow to the penis. They work for around 65% of all men, though there are some who will experience no benefit.
A vacuum pump is a more reliable option, and 90% of men report success after using one. However, in some cases, a vacuum pump can cause bruising. Alprostadil, a medicine which is most commonly injected directly into the penis, is 85% successful, though understandably, many men are deterred at the thought of injecting themselves before sex!
Penis implants provide a more permanent solution to the problem. A semi-rigid or inflatable implant is inserted surgically into the penis, which can then be used to create an erection. However, it’s an expensive procedure, and it’s not likely that you’ll be able to receive it on the NHS.
Natural Cures for Erectile Dysfunction
Whilst the medical procedures enjoy a relatively good success rate, it may be possible for you to treat the problem using more natural methods, depending on the nature of your condition. If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction due to a psychological reason, such as depression, anxiety, or reduced libido, counselling may provide the solution, or visiting a sex therapist with your partner.
Sometimes, exercising your pelvic floor muscles, the muscles you use to stop your flow of urine, can also help. In other cases it may be useful to make certain changes to your lifestyle, such as quitting smoking and losing weight.
Remember that erectile dysfunction is a common problem, and that you shouldn’t feel shy discussing it with your GP. It’s only through talking about it that you’ll be able to discover the right solution for you.
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