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Causes of erectile dysfunction
If you have problems getting an erection (erectile dysfunction) it could be caused by physical problems relating to the hormones, nerves and blood vessels or by psychological issues. There has recently been some evidence that suggest up to 80% of erection problems are caused by physical problems. Sometimes erectile dysfunction is caused by anxiety and psychological problems.
Usually an erection happens when your imagination is stimulated or your feelings are aroused. For example when you see, touch, hear, smell or even when you taste something which turns you on! When this happens the central nervous system sends messages to the brain increasing the blood flow to the penis. The penis's spongy chambers (corpora cavernosa) fill with blood and then it becomes very firm and expands.
There are 4 essential requirements for a healthy erection:
- Firstly a normal healthy nervous system, which actively sends the right message, signals to the penis.
- Secondary circulation, it is important for body's system of blood vessels (namely the vascular system) to let blood rush in and out of the penis.
- Thirdly muscle, it is important for the penis muscle to be functioning properly. It must relax so that it can fill with blood and get bigger
And finally the penis needs to have the ability to trap and hold the blood in so that it stays hard, this is maintained by a one-way valve.
Some of the reasons for erectile dysfunction can be long and short-term medical complications such as prostate or other surgery that would interfere with the messages (nerve impulses) or blood flow to the penis. These problems are often the cause of erectile dysfunction in men who are 50 or over. Vascular medical conditions (i.e. the blood vessels) can stop the blood from filling or staying in the penis for long enough to contain an erection. Problems with the blood vessels (vascular problems) may prevent blood from filling the penis or from remaining there long enough to maintain an erection. For example, long-term high blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels and lead to erection problems.
Arousal signals which travel from the brain and the spinal cord (the central nervous system) down to the penis can be harmed by problems with the nerves. For example Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Stroke and Diabetes are medical conditions which damage the nerves and affect the ability to get an erection and lower sex drive. Complications from surgery, spinal cord damage would also cause problems.
Medications, particularly those for high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, can have side-effects which can include erectile dysfunction. Sometimes it is possible to alter the dose to reduce the side-effects or even change the medication altogether (e.g. use another brand).
Illegal drugs, alcohol, or tobacco can lead to erectile dysfunction. Obviously reducing or stopping the intake of these substances may reduce the severity of the effects of them. Low level of testosterone can be involved in stopping an erection or problems with the penis structure or the tissues which surround it can prevent an erection.
Psychological problems such as grief, stress, anxiety, fear, current or past relationship problems or even after the birth of the first child can have an effect on the erection process by distracting the man from things that would normally arouse him. Men under the age of 40 who don't have physical risk factors are mostly caused by psychological factors than physical reasons.