Having erection problems from time to time is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if erectile dysfunction is a recurring problem, it can cause stress, affect self-confidence, and contribute to relationship problems. Problems achieving or maintaining an erection can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs treatment and a risk factor for heart disease.
- Symptoms of erectile dysfunction may include the following:
- Problems getting an erection
- Problems maintaining an erection
- Decreased sexual desire
Male sexual arousal is a complex process involving the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. Erectile dysfunction may be the result of a problem with any of these. Similarly, stress and mental health concerns can cause erectile dysfunction or make it worse.
Sometimes erectile dysfunction is due to a combination of physical and psychological issues. For example, a mild physical illness that slows down your sexual response can make you anxious about maintaining an erection. This anxiety can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction.
Physical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
In many cases, erectile dysfunction is due to physical factors. These are the most common causes:
- Heart disease
- Clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome — condition consisting of increased blood pressure, high insulin levels, body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol levels
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Certain prescription drugs
- Tobacco use
- Peyronie’s disease — development of scar tissue inside the penis
- Alcohol and other substance abuse
- Sleep disorders
- Treatments for prostate cancer or prostate enlargement
- Surgeries or injuries affecting the pelvic area or spinal cord
- Low testosterone
Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction
The brain plays a key role in activating the series of physical events that trigger an erection, the first of which is the sensation of sexual arousal. Several factors can interfere with sexual feelings and cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. These include the following:
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.
- Relationship problems due to stress, poor communication, or other concerns
The best way to avoid erectile dysfunction is to choose a healthy lifestyle and manage existing medical conditions. For example:
- Work with your doctor to manage diabetes, heart disease or other chronic medical conditions.
- Visit your doctor for regular checkups and screenings.
- Stop smoking, limit or avoid alcohol, and don’t use illicit drugs.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
- Seek help for anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.
- Take food supplements
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