What is erectile dysfunction?

Table of Contents

What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction 

Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection that is firm enough to have intercourse.

Most of us have heard of this problem at some point in our lives, but many people avoid seeking help due to the embarrassment that erectile dysfunction can cause.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that erectile dysfunction is a lot more common than you probably think, and that fortunately, there are many things that you can do to manage it. It’s important to determine the cause of ED before it can be treated, since it can often point to other health conditions.

What is an erection? 

An erection is the result of increased blood flow to your penis, which is a natural consequence of sexual arousal. When you become aroused, your body releases hormones and chemicals that send signals to increase blood flow to the penis.

There are two “chambers” or anatomical cavities inside the penis (called corpus cavernosum) which are made of spongy muscle tissue.

During an erection, the muscles in the penis relax to allow these cavities to become filled with blood. This causes the penis to become rigid and erect. The erection ends when the muscles contract, causing blood to flow out of the corpus cavernosum. As a result, the penis becomes flaccid and soft again.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction exists on a spectrum that ranges from isolated occurrences to long-term ED.

An occasional bout of erectile dysfunction can be caused by many factors. Stress, in particular, can lead to occasional ED which resolves on its own. Other common causes of occasional ED include fatigue, anxiety, lack of sleep, or recent alcohol consumption. Occasional ED probably isn’t a cause for concern — especially if you’re able to identify the situation that is leading to the ED and the problem goes away once it is resolved.

However, the causes of recurring erectile dysfunction tend to be different and more complex. And while many men have experienced occasional ED and know this is a relatively common issue, ongoing ED can have a much more significant impact on your emotional wellbeing,  self-confidence, and romantic relationships.

It’s important to keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases, erectile dysfunction is a manifestation of an underlying health issue. Contrary to popular belief, ED isn’t considered to be “normal” at any age, and it’s very important to determine the root problem so that it can be treated.

Some of the health conditions that can lead to erectile dysfunction include:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening and clogging of the arteries)
  • Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels)
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Testosterone deficiency
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Nerve injuries
  • Certain medications or treatments

causes-of-erectile-dysfunction

What are the risk factors of erectile dysfunction?

Since we just mentioned that your blood circulation plays a big role in your sexual function, it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that any condition that affects your blood flow also increases your risk of developing erectile dysfunction. Left untreated, heart disease can cause “blockages” that can affect practically any part of your circulatory system and lead to different manifestations — including erectile dysfunction.

Erectile dysfunction and heart disease are so closely liked that research has shown that men who suffer from chronic ED often have a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Likewise, diabetes can affect the small blood vessels in the penis and the nerves that control the area, which explains why men with diabetes have been found to be 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer from ED when compared to men without diabetes.

Your lifestyle and general health can also increase your risk of having ED. A sedentary lifestyle is linked to many of the health conditions that cause ED, including heart disease and diabetes.

Other risk factors of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Drug use
  • Obesity
  • Untreated psychological conditions
  • Excessive worrying or anxiety over sexual performance
  • Relationship conflicts

risk-factors-of-erectile-dysfunction

How common is erectile dysfunction?

Talking about erectile dysfunction — or any intimate topic, for that matter — can be uncomfortable for many of us. But although its exact prevalence is difficult to determine, statistics show that approximately 1 in 10 men will suffer from erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives. 

In fact, erectile dysfunction is the most commonly reported sexual problem in men. And although it usually affects seniors with underlying health conditions, men can suffer from ED at any age.

Fortunately, the majority of cases of ED can be treated; however, it’s important to seek professional guidance to rule out possible medical causes and choose the best course of action for each individual case. Sex is a normal and healthy part of human relationships, and ED can affect your self-esteem and emotional state. Managing this health problem can help improve your quality of life, mood, and relationships.

Written by Andrea Pinto on May 25, 2021

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