Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile Dysfunction (Impotence)

What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is the inability of a man to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Occasional failure to achieve an erection is a common phenomenon and does not constitute a medical problem. However, if the problem is recurring, it may be erectile dysfunction and you should consult your doctor.

Erectile dysfunction can refer to a total inability to have an erection, an inconsistent ability to do so, or the ability to sustain only brief ones.

The risk of erectile dysfunction increases with age.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Often, erectile dysfunction has a physical cause, such as an injury or because of drug side effects. However, there may also be psychological reasons, such as depression and anxiety.

An erection is the result of an interaction between the blood circulation system, the nervous system, the hormonal balance and a number of psychological factors. Because this is such a complex mechanism, disruption at any level can result in erectile dysfunction.

What are some of the physical causes of erectile dysfunction?

  • Excessive drinking
  • Heavy smoking
  • Side effects from certain drugs, such as some antidepressants or some drugs used to treat high blood pressure (anti-hypertensives)
  • A disease of the nervous system, such as MS (multiple sclerosis)
  • Diabetes can, in some cases, result in erection difficulties
  • Heart or circulation problems
  • Other serious, long-term illnesses – such as liver or kidney disease.

What are some of the psychological causes of erectile dysfunction?

  • Depression
  • Performance anxiety (worrying about how you will perform during sex)
  • Stress
  • Relationship problems.

Sometimes an occasional erection problem can set off a cycle whereby the worry and stress caused by the initial problem becomes a cause of further erection difficulties.

What should I do if I am having erection problems?

If possible, you should discuss the situation with your partner. Failing to be open with your partner about your anxieties can exacerbate the problem. If the cause of the problem is a psychological one, then expressing your feelings openly with your partner may help to ease any stress and pressure ‘to perform’.

If the problem is recurring, then outside help may be required. The first source of help is your GP. Many men feel too embarrassed to consult their doctor about erection problems. However, many men with erectile dysfunction are helped enormously by their GPs – some GPs even have a special interest or expertise in the area.

How is erectile dysfunction treated?

There are a number of treatment options for erectile dysfunction, and which one is right for you will depend on the cause. For example, if the cause is psychological, you may be referred to a psychotherapist to get to the root of the problem. Such treatment is successful in the majority of cases, even where erectile dysfunction has been a long-term problem.

If it is suspected that erectile dysfunction is a side-effect of a medication, switching to a different class of drug may solve the problem.

Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as reducing your alcohol intake or cutting down on smoking.

Otherwise, you may receive some sort of drug therapy. In recent years, Viagra has become one of the most famous drugs in the world, due to its ability to help millions of men with the problem of erectile dysfunction. There are now a number of oral drug therapies available.

Other medical options include injections, which are self-administered into the penis to bring about an erection. Penile implants are sometimes used, particularly for men who are permanently impotent. Some implants are inflatable by squeezing a small bulb placed in the scrotum to achieve an erection. Another option is a vacuum device, which uses a pump to draw blood into the penis. Surgery may also be an option for some men, whose problem is caused by a blockage in blood flow to the penis.

For more information and advice, visit the Erection Problems Clinic

Reviewed: December 8, 2006

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