Erectile dysfunction and impotence

What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (or impotence) is a man’s inability to get or maintain an erection that allows sexual activity with penetration. Erectile dysfunction is not a disease, but a symptom of some other problem – physical, psychological or a mixture of both. Don’t worry about occasional failure to get or keep an erection, this is normal. However, if you experience this problem several times in a short period of time, then you should speak to a doctor to discover the nature of your problem and to find an appropriate treatment. While occasional erectile dysfunction is normal, ongoing erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of a serious physical illness. It is important that your doctor fully investigates any ongoing problems to check for any underlying medical cause that may also need treatment. This may include heart and blood vessel diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

The first step to finding treatment is to determine the causes of your condition. Doctors used to think that erectile dysfunction was mainly caused by psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression. In fact, most cases of erectile dysfunction are caused by a physical illness. Psychological problems cause only one in ten cases of persistent erectile dysfunction and tend to be short term. Those experiencing recurrent problems are more likely to have a physical problem, which could be a medical condition, or the result of an unhealthy lifestyle.

The best way to discover if you have a long term impotence problem is to see whether you have an erection when you awake in the morning. If you are erect, your problem is not physical. Similarly, if you achieve an erection when masturbating, your symptoms are psychological. Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction are more common in younger men under the age of 40 whereas physical factors are more likely to affect sexual health in older men. Physical erectile dysfunction happens over a period of months or years, and is often a gradual loss of function.

Is erectile dysfunction linked to other health conditions?

Yes, there are several other conditions which are known to be risk factors for erectile dysfunction. They include:

1. Medications – Anti-depressants, nicotine and beta blockers used to treat conditions like high blood pressure are known to cause erectile dysfunction.

2. Being overweight – Being overweight can lead to other health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, which are also known risk factors for erectile dysfunction.

3. Smoking – Tobacco restricts the blood flow to the arteries.

4. Diabetes – Conditions like type 2 diabetes can damage the nerve and blood vessels in the penis.

5. Alcohol/Illicit Drugs – Drinking alcohol in excess and certain recreational drugs have been found to cause impotence.

6. Prostate cancer/surgery – Prostate medications and surgery can lead to erectile dysfunction.

7. Heart disease – Chronic heart problems can cause the arteries to harden and affect the blood supply to the penis.

8. Psychological causes – Depression, performance anxiety, stress, mental disorders, psychological problems, negative feelings.

How can I treat erectile dysfunction?

There are many treatments available for erectile dysfunction. These include:

  1. oral medications (tablets)
  2. changing your prescription medications if they are the cause
  3. psychotherapy and counselling
  4. injections directly into the penis
  5. penile prosthetic implants or external vacuum penile pump devices

If you are experiencing symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction, the worst thing you can do is suffer in silence. The first thing to do is to discuss your condition with your partner and a doctor for emotional and professional support. Talking to someone can also help you to find out the underlying cause for your erection problems. Sometimes, treatment of the cause may restore erectile function, for example, testosterone replacement, resolving substance abuse problems or withdrawing medications that may be causing the erectile dysfunction. Mostly, treatment aimed at directly restoring erectile function is necessary.

Oral medication is the most popular form of erectile dysfunction treatment, which can provide either a long or short term solution and is effective in about 70 per cent of men.  Oral treatments work by restricting the action of the PDE-5 enzyme, allowing more blood to flow to your penis. This enables you to achieve a firmer and longer lasting erection during sexual intercourse.  You should speak to your doctor to discuss your condition and the most appropriate treatment for you.  Oral medication may not be suitable for all men. Men taking nitrate-containing heart medication should always consult their doctor, as erectile dysfunction medications may interact with these medications.

Basic lifestyle changes, such as reducing your day-to-day stress, exercising more and eating a low calorie diet can also have a significant impact on your sexual health.

Erectile Dysfunction and Impotence Summary

Erectile dysfunction is a common problem defined as an inability to develop or maintain an erection for mutually satisfactory sex. The condition is estimated to effect 150 million men worldwide and more than 1 million Australian men. While chronic erectile dysfunction is never normal, over 25% of Australian men report having experienced erectile dysfunction at some time. Although erectile dysfunction may not damage your health physically, it can affect you emotionally. Sexual health and function are important determinants of quality of life. Suffering with erectile dysfunction could lead to issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, embarrassment, an unsatisfactory sex life and relationship problems.

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