What is Erectile Dysfunction? Causes of Dysfunction
ED at a glance

ED at a glance

ED at a glance

ED at a glance

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

  • Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is another name for impotence. ED is the inability to get or maintain an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. This common problem bears the potential to occur at any time in every man from all ethnicities and ages. However, ED is more likely to emerge as men get older and/or develop other health problems. ED may be an early sign or outcome of various and more serious health issues, including heart and circulatory diseases, diabetes, trauma surgery, radiation therapy, drugs, smoking, alcohol abuse, hormonal imbalances, neurologic and psychiatric diseases as well as psychological problems.

  • One may effectively prevent a serious health problem from progressing to a more severe stage by simply self-assessing the severity of their ED and seeking health advice from an expert. 

  • Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is another name for impotence. ED is the inability to get or maintain an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. This common problem bears the potential to occur at any time in every man from all ethnicities and ages. However, ED is more likely to emerge as men get older and/or develop other health problems. ED may be an early sign or outcome of various and more serious health issues, including heart and circulatory diseases, diabetes, trauma surgery, radiation therapy, drugs, smoking, alcohol abuse, hormonal imbalances, neurologic and psychiatric diseases as well as psychological problems.

  • One may effectively prevent a serious health problem from progressing to a more severe stage by simply self-assessing the severity of their ED and seeking health advice from an expert. 

How Does an Erection Occur?

Initial Filling

Initial Filling

With psychological or sexual stimulation, neurotransmitters cause penile smooth muscles to relax, increasing blood flow to the body of the penis. 

Partial Erection

Partial Erection

Penile arteries expand to accommodate the increased blood flow needed to elongate and expand the penis.
Full Erection

Full Erection

The increased volume of blood within the penis is prevented from draining, thus expanding the penis to a full erection.

Rigid Erection

Rigid Erection

Maximum rigidity is attained. The body and the tip of the penis enlarge until the penile veins are forcefully compressed. This increases engorgement and maintains maximum penile rigidity, which will later be followed by ejaculation. 

Return to Flaccidity

Partial Erection

Muscle contractions result in increased blood outflow from the penis, decreasing its length and girth and then returning to its flaccid state. 

Causes of ED & Common Risk Factors<sup>1</sup>

Causes of ED & Common Risk Factors1

Causes of ED & Common Risk Factors<sup>1</sup>

Causes of ED & Common Risk Factors1

  • ED can occur due to hormonal and physical processes as well as various psychological aspects.
  • Disorders affecting the heart and blood circulation bear the common risk factors for ED, including high levels of cholesterol, obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse and lack of exercise. ED potentially possess early signs of heart disease as blood flow issues can negatively affect erectile function. Physicians may recommend a further check-up as one gets diagnosed with ED in order to ensure that no heart or metabolic disease exists. It is suggested to follow any recommendations from your physician as ED can be an early sign of a more threatening disease.
  • ED can occur due to hormonal and physical processes as well as various psychological aspects.
  • Disorders affecting the heart and blood circulation bear the common risk factors for ED, including high levels of cholesterol, obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse and lack of exercise. ED potentially possess early signs of heart disease as blood flow issues can negatively affect erectile function. Physicians may recommend a further check-up as one gets diagnosed with ED in order to ensure that no heart or metabolic disease exists. It is suggested to follow any recommendations from your physician as ED can be an early sign of a more threatening disease.

Health Problems Associated With ED

Health Problems Associated With ED

Diseases affecting the heart and the blood vessels

Diseases affecting the heart and the blood vessels

Heart and circulatory disorders cause the heart to become less capable as a blood pump and blood vessels can become narrowed and hardened.

As a result of reduced blood supply into the penis, it may not fill with enough blood required for an erection and/or blood in the penis may leak out faster than entering due to weakened compression on the veins which ultimately hinders a person’s ability to achieve an erection.

Diabetes

Diabetes

Elevated blood glucose levels damage blood vessels. Poor blood circulation can result in damage to nerves which are nourished by blood vessels. The most common causes of ED are the diseases of the blood vessels and nerve damage which often occur together.
Medications

Medications

Medications used in the treatment of high blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, depression, psychosis, and anxiety are known to cause ED through well-defined mechanisms.
Smoking, alcohol, and drugs

Smoking, alcohol, and drugs

Smoking, excessive alcohol use and recreational drug use are associated with a higher probability of ED.
Urologic disorders

Urologic disorders

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), which is the non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate tissue, is highly likely to interfere with erectile function. Pelvic surgery including some cancer-related surgeries of the prostate, bladder or bowel may result in nerve damage leading to ED.
Penile Prostheses

Trauma

Injury to the spinal cord or the nerves necessary for the sexual function may disturb erectile activities.
Neurologic and psychiatric problems

Neurologic and psychiatric problems

Neurologic diseases, including early stages of Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis, can result in reduced sensitivity, or reduction of signals to the penis to release the chemicals that initiate and maintain an erection. ED may be also an early sign of various psychiatric disorders.
Hormone imbalance

Hormone imbalance

Deficiency of male hormones can reduce a man’s desire or interest in sexual activities.
Psychological problems

Psychological problems

It is very common to see a combination of causes that affect psychological and physical well-being simultaneously. However, ED resulting from purely psychological causes are seen in less than 1 out of 10 men. ED can be the consequence of stress, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, relationship problems, embarrassment, feelings of guilt, and other psychosocial issues. When a man has difficulty getting an erection, whatever the cause, he will often experience a pressure to perform. This can lead to a feeling of inadequacy and a sense of loss of manhood (called performance anxiety). These are all common emotions for most of the men with ED, which may lead the affected people into a vicious cycle of anxiety and ED.
References
1. Shabsigh R, MD, Lue TF, MD. A Clinician’s Guide to ED Management. New York: Haymarket Media Inc.; 2006.
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