Erectile dysfunction can be an uncomfortable thing to experience, let alone talk about. However, it’s actually more common than you might think - nearly half of Australian men experience ED. Struggling to maintain an erection during sex is something that happens to men of all ages but few men choose to talk about it, let alone seek treatment.
The good news is that there are different ways to manage ED, from identifying the underlying problem to proven prescription medications. Before exploring different treatment options, it’s important to understand what causes ED, what it is exactly and what can be done to treat and prevent it.
What causes erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction, also known as ED, is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sex. This happens when there isn’t enough blood flow to the penis.
There are two cylinder-shaped chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. They run the length of the penis, are made of spongy muscle tissue and contain many blood vessels. When a man gets sexually aroused, nerves release chemicals that increase blood flow into the penis. As the pressure builds, the blood becomes trapped in the corpora cavernosa and causes an erection. If there isn’t enough blood flow into the penis, it can cause erectile dysfunction.
There are a few different possible causes of ED, including both psychological and physical conditions.
Physical causes of ED
Because erections are directly related to blood flow, the most common physical causes of erectile dysfunction are related to circulation and blood pressure. Cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension) are all common reasons for impotence. That’s because each of these physical conditions impact the amount of blood that flows to the penis. Certain medications can also cause erectile dysfunction, such as blood pressure medicine like beta blockers and diuretics, antidepressants like SSRIs and some allergy medications like antihistamines.
Men who have diabetes are more likely to experience ED because diabetes damages your nerves and blood vessels through poor long-term blood sugar control. Other chronic conditions that are associated with ED include Parkinson’s, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders and multiple sclerosis.
In addition to all of these physical causes of ED, leading a generally unhealthy or sedentary lifestyle can contribute to ED. Obesity can impact blood pressure and cholesterol, and smoking, alcoholism and drug use can increase your risk for ED.
Psychological causes of ED
Being sexually aroused starts with your brain, which is why underlying psychological issues can also lead to ED. Stress and anxiety can interrupt how the brain sends messages to the penis to increase blood flow, making it difficult to get and maintain an erection.
ED can also be caused by negative thoughts related to sex. Psychological issues can lead to performance anxiety, which can turn into a vicious cycle. It can be tricky to pinpoint the underlying psychological reasons that contribute to erectile dysfunction, but if left untreated, ED can cause even more stress or anxiety. That’s why it’s important to identify the underlying issues that’s causing ED and try different treatment and management options.
What ED treatment options are there?
Depending on the reason for ED, there are a few different treatment options available. When diagnosing erectile dysfunction, your doctor will ask questions about your medical history, symptoms, sex life and overall lifestyle. In some cases, you may undergo a physical exam or blood tests but the most important thing is for your doctor to understand what could be causing your ED.
ED treatment options include:
- Erectile dysfunction drugs - common prescription ED pills include sildenafil (generic for Viagra), tadalafil (generic for Cialis), avanafil (Spedra) and vardenafil (Levitra). These ED drugs work by stimulating blood flow to the penis to achieve erections and need to be taken before partaking in sexual activity. These medications, however, do not work effectively without the desire and arousal for sexual intercourse. That's why addressing psychological causes can be just as important
- Psychological treatment - for psychologically-induced ED, cognitive-behavioural therapy is a popular treatment method because it addresses the negative thoughts that lead to performance anxiety.
- Lifestyle changes - if ED is caused by obesity or unhealthy lifestyle, losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding recreational drug use, exercising regularly and drinking less alcohol can all help reduce the potential for impotence.
- Vacuum constriction devices - though not considered a first line therapy for ED, vacuum constriction devices are pumps that can be used to create erections through vacuum pressure.
- Surgery - also not considered a first line therapy for ED, vascular reconstructive surgery to improve blood flow to the penis can be considered for severe and prolonged erectile dysfunction. However, this is rarely recommended as it doesn’t always work.
- Penile injections - another second-line therapy for ED that can be considered if oral medications are ineffective, penile injections dilate the arteries of the penis to improve blood flow.
Depending on whether ED is caused by psychological or physical reasons, there are different types of treatment you can explore to help manage it. When seeking help, it’s important to give your doctor as much information about your symptoms, lifestyle and medical history as possible so they can best assess your needs. With Rosemary, you can skip the face-to-face conversations and consult an online doctor through a text-based consultation. Start your consultation today and treat erectile dysfunction online, discreetly.