The most frequent question men have when they experience any form of ED is “Why is this happening to me?”. While your doctor or healthcare provider would be the one to tell you the reason it is happening to you, here are the top 10 causes or risks for ED in general.
Just like with many health issues, erectile dysfunction becomes more common or worse as you age. While about 2% to 12% of men at age 40 experience some form of ED, this percentage goes up with every decade of life. In fact, more than half of men over 70 years old experience some symptoms of ED.
2) Sedentary lifestyle
I know. You probably already know that being overweight is bad for your health. But, did you know that being overweight actually causes your body to turn testosterone into estrogen? This is one of the reasons scientists believe obesity and a sedentary lifestyle (little to no exercise, unhealthy food choices, etc.) lead to problems with erectile dysfunction.
The good news is this is a reversible problem. As you lose weight or exercise more, you might notice your erections getting better and lasting longer. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any diet or exercise plan, though.
Diabetes is such an overwhelming health problem for many reasons, and unfortunately, erectile dysfunction is one of the many problems a man with diabetes may have to deal with in his life. The longer you have diabetes (either Type 1 or Type 2), the more likely you are to experience ED.
But, more importantly, how well you control your blood sugar levels really affects your risk for ED. An estimated 2% to 12% of all 40 year old men experience ED, but that percentage jumps to 50% if you only look at those with high blood sugar. Erectile dysfunction caused by diabetes isn’t always a completely reversible problem, but you can definitely make it a lot better or less likely to happen by following your doctor’s advice to control your blood sugar.
4) Heart disease and high cholesterol
Erectile dysfunction actually has an interesting relationship with a man’s heart health. It’s been known for a while that things like high blood pressure and high cholesterol can cause ED; however, recent research has actually shown that when healthy men develop erectile dysfunction, many of them end up being diagnosed with heart disease less than 5 years later. So, if you are experiencing ED and have had no other health issues, you may want your doctor to take a look at your heart. You might be able to prevent the development of heart disease.
Smoking and other tobacco use is connected to many health problems, including erectile dysfunction. The use of tobacco decreases blood flow throughout your entire body. This includes the blood vessels in a man’s penis. If the blood supply is decreased there, it becomes much more difficult for you to achieve and maintain an erection. Thankfully, this is reversible. If you stop smoking, you’ll notice your erections will improve.
There are a number of medications, both prescription and otherwise, that can contribute to or cause erectile dysfunction. Some of these include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, antihistamines, acid reflux medications, and opioid pain medications. There are many other medicines that can also lead to ED, so if you are having difficulty with erections and recently started a new medication, ask your pharmacist or the doctor who prescribed you the medicine if they could be connected. On a separate but related note, overuse of alcohol and recreational drugs (including marijuana), can also lead to symptoms of ED.
7) Mental health issues and performance anxiety
You have probably heard the phrase “mind over matter” before. Well, when it comes to erectile dysfunction, your brain plays a major role in your ability to achieve and sustain an erection. If you’re under mental stress or having mental health issues, your brain can have trouble creating the nerve connections and releasing the hormones responsible for causing an erection. Examples of these stressors or issues include things like depression, anxiety, overconsumption of pornography, and even nervousness in the bedroom (think first-time jitters). These are manageable and potentially reversible with the right support or treatment.
8) Prostate inflammation and prostate cancer
It should be no surprise that an unhealthy prostate can lead to erectile dysfunction. The prostate is responsible for creating one of the components of semen. While benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) doesn’t cause ED, the medicines used to treat it can. On the other hand, chronic inflammation of the prostate or prostate cancer can cause painful ejaculation and difficulty achieving an erection. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have known prostate issues and are experiencing ED.
9) Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
A common question men have is whether sexually transmitted infections (formerly known as STDs) can lead to erectile dysfunction. The short answer is yes. Certain STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, untreated HIV, and viral hepatitis can sometimes cause infections in the prostate gland. If this does happen, then it is possible for you to have symptoms of ED.
Most of the time, if you treat both the prostate infection and take steps to manage STIs, any issues with ED will resolve as well. If a prostate infection is left untreated, though, it can cause permanent damage, so it’s better to see your doctor about it sooner rather than later.
10) Low testosterone (low T)
An estimated 1 in 4 men has lower-than-normal levels of testosterone. Low T causes all types of men’s health issues, including hair loss, insomnia, low sex drive, and erectile dysfunction. The lower the level of testosterone, the more symptoms you may experience.
This is very easy to identify with a simple blood test, and can be managed with medications. Once testosterone levels are brought back to normal, most men will notice their ED symptoms getting better or going away altogether.
While erectile dysfunction might seem overwhelming or like another stressor to add to the pile, just know that there are several treatment options out there. The hardest part for most is starting the conversation with their doctor. But, by working with your healthcare provider, you can find a regimen that works for you and helps give you that piece of your life back again. There’s an answer out there for just about everyone.
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