Erectile Dysfunction Factsheet

home Search

Definition

Erectile dysfunction, abbreviated to ED, is the name given to the condition whereby a man either cannot achieve an erection, or cannot maintain an erection during sexual intercourse. Most men will suffer from this at some time in their lives - it becomes a problem that needs attention when it occurs habitually and not occasionally. The older a man gets, the more likely it is for erectile dysfunction to occur.

The mechanism of an erection

When a man is sexually aroused, signals from the brain are sent to the genital region. These signals tell the muscle walls of the blood vessels entering the penis to relax. This allows extra blood to enter the penis, filling up the two chambers in the penis called the corpora cavernosa. This mechanism is what causes the penis to become erect.

Possible causes of erectile dysfunction

Causes can be physical or psychological. Known physical causes include diabetes and diseases of the cardio vascular system that can restrict blood flow. Other physical causes can be diseases or physical trauma that interfere with the transmission of the nerve signals, such as spinal injuries, brain conditions such as a stroke or Parkinson's disease and problems connected to removal of the prostate gland. In rare circumstances, problems can be caused by insufficient levels of testosterone, perhaps caused by hypogonadism or earlier irradiation of the testicles.

Psychological causes can be numerous and difficult to quantify. They can range from the basic but often unspoken problem of no longer finding your partner sexually attractive, and may include other problems with your relationship, or stress related problems including work, unemployment and money worries.

Other causes can include the use of alcohol (which is known to temporarily cause "brewer's droop"), smoking and drug abuse. Some medicines can also cause erectile dysfunction, including certain drugs designed to lower high blood pressure. However, whilst these drugs may cause erectile dysfunction in some men, they can act as an effective treatment for it in other men. There are no hard and fast rules. Other medicines known to cause erectile dysfunction include diuretics and beta blockers. You should stay on these medications if they have been prescribed for you by your doctor, but go back to see him and let him know about the problems that you have been suffering. He may be able to prescribe a different drug that will still lower your blood pressure, but not have the negative side effects, see WebMD for further information.

Treatment

Treatments for ED will depend upon the cause. Tablets such as viagra, levitra and cialis are a first step, but they may not help in the case of relationship problems - you will still need to feel aroused.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can also be beneficial, so it is wise to consider stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet, reducing alcohol consumption and taking exercise.

More serious cases of ED that do not respond to treatment with the standardly available tablets can be treated with injections directly into the penis, or by pellets inserted into the tip of the penis. Occasionally, surgery can be performed to insert a pump into the scrotum and tubes into the penis, which will allow the penis to be "inflated" to cause a pseudo erection. Whilst surgery of this nature allows intercourse to take place, it does not enhance the chances of an ejaculation, so its benefits are mainly psychological. Many women do not require sexual penetration in order to be sexually satisfied so men should think long and hard before undergoing this type of surgery.

You are advised to take professional medical advice from your doctor before obtaining any prescription medications.