Penile erection is a complex process in which the brain, nerves, muscles and blood vessels play a major role. The main causes of erectile dysfunction include psychological and health conditions, medications, trauma and lifestyle factors.
Penile erection is a complex process in which the brain, nerves, muscles and blood vessels play a major role. In addition, hormones and emotions are at work. Problems in any of these may result in an inability to get or maintain an erection during sexual activity. This disorder is known as erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction may be caused by several reasons. Major causes may differ in different age groups. Causes of erectile dysfunction may be broadly divided as follows.
- Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety or stress
- Underlying health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease
- Medications such as antiandrogens, appetite suppressants and antidepressants
- Trauma due to an injury or a surgery
- Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise or addictions such as smoking
What role does mental health play in causing erectile dysfunction?
A problem in a person’s mental health is one of the most common contributing factors of erectile dysfunction.
- Anxiety: Anxiety can stem from anything—worrying about not being able to perform in bed (performance anxiety), finances, family responsibilities and more. This anxiety can come in the middle of the sexual act and cause the person to lose an erection early.
- Stress: Everyday stress wreaks havoc on not only a person’s heart and digestive system, but also their penis. Sex can work as a stress-buster and stress itself can cause problems in sex.
- Depression: Erectile dysfunction can have its root in depression as well. Depression is a potent dampener of desires, including a person’s sexual desire. Some medications used in the treatment of depression can also have erectile dysfunction as a side effect.
- Anger: Having frequent arguments and getting angry may make a person lose interest in sex. Although these flush the person’s face, they reduce blow flow to the penis, resulting in erectile dysfunction.
How do lifestyle factors contribute to erectile dysfunction?
Lifestyle factors contribute to erectile dysfunction in the following ways.
- Unhealthy lifestyle: Having a lot of fatty food and being physically inactive can make a person gain extra (unhealthy) pounds. Being overweight, particularly obese, lowers the amount of sex-boosting hormone known as testosterone, which ultimately affects the person’s sexual performance. It is also linked to hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can reduce blood flow to the penis.
- Alcohol: While getting in the mood with alcohol is OK, doctors advise against overindulging. Doctors recommend drinking no more than two drinks per day for men.
- Smoking: Tobacco smoking can damage a person’s blood vessels and reduce arterial blood supply to the penis. This can lead to erectile dysfunction.
- Recreational drug abuse: The use of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine can cause erectile dysfunction by damaging the blood vessels. These drugs can also restrict blood flow to the penis.
What health issues affect a person’s ability to get an erection?
Atherosclerosis and diabetes are common causes of long-standing erectile dysfunction. Other health issues that can significantly contribute to the problem of erectile dysfunction include
- Heart disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Hyperlipidemia (high lipid or cholesterol level)
- Benign enlargement of the prostate
- Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep disorders
- Chronic kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Injury to the penis or prostate
- Accidents involving trauma to the spinal cord
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peyronie’s disease (formation of scar tissue under the skin of the penis)
- Treatments for prostate cancer
- Radiation therapy
- Prostate surgery
- Surgery for bladder cancer
What medications have erectile dysfunction as one of their side effects?
While treating an illness, certain medications can have erectile dysfunction as one of their side effects. These include
- Antihypertensive medicines (medicines for blood pressure)
- Antidepressants (medications for depression)
- Sedatives (medicines that make a person sleepy)
- Antiandrogens (medicines used for prostate cancer therapy)
- Medications for ulcers
- Antihistamines (medicines for cold and allergies)
- Appetite suppressants
If you develop any side effects, including erectile dysfunction, after taking certain medications, consult your doctor. Do not stop taking the medications unless your doctor tells you to do so.