Erectile dysfunction, characterized as the inability to maintain an erection, is an issue with many possible causes.
Erectile dysfunction may be caused by direct physical trauma, such as nerve damage or damage inflicted from radiation therapy or surgery, or as a result of a neurological or psychological condition. It may also manifest as the symptom of an existing physical condition such as diabetes, vascular disease, or Peyronie’s disease. These can be traced to three main sources of dysfunction:
- A malfunction in the neurotransmitters that alert the cardiovascular system to pump blood to the region
- A failure on the part of the cardiovascular system to respond to these neurotransmitters
- Damage to the corpora cavernosa or erectile tissue which expands as a result of this increased blood flow
Since the pathology behind erectile dysfunction is so varied, individuals dealing with the inability to maintain an erection should contact a doctor, as it may be symptomatic of a more serious condition.
Living with Erectile Dysfunction
Regardless of the causes, erectile dysfunction can have a substantively negative impact on the quality of life of patients. This can include a profound feeling of low self-esteem and result in strained relationships resulting from an inability to perform sexually. Patients need to be aware that erectile dysfunction is not a sign of a personal defect, but rather the result of a psychological or physical condition with available treatments. Roughly 5 percent of men in their forties suffer from chronic erectile dysfunction, and this number rises to between 15 and 25 percent for men over the age of 65. Recurring issues with erectile dysfunction affect as many as half of men in the age range of 40 to 65.
There are numerous lab tests which can be performed to determine the root of an issue with erectile dysfunction. Blood tests can help identify potential cardiovascular or neurological issues, as they check blood sugar, hormone levels, and the functionality of the liver, kidney, and thyroid. A nocturnal penile tumescence can help identify if the problem is related directly to stress factors or other psychological issues in waking life, as it measures the rigidity of erections that occur while sleeping. A doctor may also suggest a urinalysis test, which can identify many of the same problems one would find in a blood test.
Treating Erectile Dysfunction
Once the root of the problem has been identified, there are a number of options a patient may utilize to deal with their erectile dysfunction. If the source is psychological in nature, regular visits to a sex therapist may help. There are also a number of medications that can address the problem. These include urethral suppositories, vacuum erection devices, or orally ingested enzyme inhibitors.
For situations where the source of the problem is physical in nature, surgery may be necessary. Surgical options include penile implants or vascular reconstructive surgery. Healthy lifestyle choices like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a responsible approach to drinking alcohol can also mitigate the effects of erectile dysfunction.