Erectile dysfunction used to be considered a dirty little secret. Then came the advent of drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, along with the celebrity endorsements–all of which brought erectile dysfunction out of the shadows. Granted, you’re not likely to find men admitting they have erectile dysfunction in everyday conversation, but it’s also not as much of a taboo topic any more. Although it’s getting more attention and is more widely accepted, erectile dysfunction is still fairly misunderstood.
What is Erectile Dysfunction?
Every man has had a problem achieving or maintaining an erection at one time or another. For most men, it’s a one-time, or occasional problem. And, when these issues occur, they usually have a clear cause, like having a few too many beers beforehand. However, if you experience erectile difficulties in at least 25 percent of your sexual encounters, you could have erectile dysfunction.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
People used to believe that erectile dysfunction was all in your head, brought on by stress or psychological issues. While it is possible for emotional issues or other factors in your life to interfere with sexual function, medical professionals are now realizing that erectile dysfunction could be a symptom of an underlying disease.
Erectile Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Disease
The penis needs adequate blood flow to achieve an erection. Cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis, reduces blood flow through your blood vessels. If the disease affects the blood vessels in your penis, it can prevent you from achieving or maintaining an erection.
Erectile Dysfunction and Diabetes
Diabetes causes excess sugar in your blood stream, which can damage your blood vessels and nerves. The vessel damage can reduce blood flow to your penis, preventing an erection. The nerve damage can reduce sensitivity in your penis, making it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection.
Erectile Dysfunction and Hypertension
Like diabetes, high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and reduce blood flow to your penis.
Erectile Dysfunction and Low Testosterone
Testosterone is responsible for several sexual functions including your libido and your ability to have an erection. While it’s normal for your testosterone levels to drop as you age, low testosterone could also be the sign of something more serious, such as cancer.
Neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS), can cause erectile dysfunction, as can certain medications.
Diagnosing Erectile Dysfunction
Diagnosis depends on which underlying disease you may have.
Cardiovascular disease and hypertension can both have few-to-no symptoms. In many cases these diseases are often diagnosed through a routine physical. This is why it’s important to have regular medical checkups.
Diabetes has several distinct symptoms including fatigue, headaches, excessive hunger, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. The disease is diagnosed with a blood test to measure blood sugar levels, or a substance called A1C.
The symptoms of low testosterone often mimic the symptoms of other diseases and include depression, reduced sex drive, weight gain, and fatigue. If you have these symptoms, your doctor may have you undergo tests to rule out other diseases before checking your testosterone levels.
Neurological diseases can have several symptoms and, like low testosterone, many of them can be mistaken for something else. If you experience muscle weakness, or if you notice that you have problems with your balance or walking you should consult your physician. You should also seek medical advice if you notice hand tremors, slurred speech or difficulty speaking, drooling or problems swallowing, frequent headaches, or vision changes.
Medicinal causes can be easier to pinpoint because the erectile dysfunction will start shortly after you begin taking the medication, or after you change the dosage. If you suspect your medication is causing erectile dysfunction, do not change or discontinue your medication without contacting your physician first.
Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction
Treatment mainly involves resolving or addressing the underlying issue. By keeping your diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease under control, you stand a better chance of correcting the problem.
Medications like Viagra can help, but they are not recommended for people with existing heart disease. You should always check with your doctor before starting any erectile dysfunction medication, and get tested to rule out any serious underlying conditions.