The process of achieving an erection is a biologically complex one. When problems arise achieving or maintaining an erection, the cause can involve a physical or psychological problem, or a combination of both.
The physical origins of erectile dysfunction (ED) occur when the sequence of events that lead to an erection is interrupted. Since achieving an erection depends on an intricate series of nerve impulses in the brain, spine and penis that trigger simultaneous responses in the veins and arteries close to the corpora cavernosa, as well as muscles and fibrous tissues, any damage or interruption interfering with any one of these sequences of events can cause ED.
Disease is the most common culprit when it comes to the breakdown of one or more portions of this sequence of events. Diseases that are commonly liked to ED include:
Diabetes is known to damage nerve endings and arteries, can interfere with a man’s ability to achieve an erection. In fact, being diagnosed with diabetes more than doubles a man’s risk of developing ED. The NIH reports that between 20 – 75 percent of diabetic men experience ED.
Vascular diseases like high cholesterol, hypertension and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are at the root of 70 percent of physical causes related to ED. All three conditions restrict blood flow to the heart, brain and the penis resulting in ED.
Neurological diseases that interfere with the normal functions of the body’s nervous system commonly cause ED in men. Neurological disease includes Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS). Stroke and spinal cord damage can also result in ED, since the transmission of nerve impulses between the brain and penis is interrupted.
Kidney disease often causes chemical changes that affect hormones, nerve function and circulation. These types of chemical changes usually lower a man’s libido (sex drive). Unfortunately, even the medications used to treat kidney disease can cause ED. Medical professionals attribute kidney failure to sexual dysfunction more than 50 percent of the time,
Prostate cancer is not a cause of ED, but the treatments for prostate cancer can be. Hormone manipulation therapy, radiation, and even surgery to remove the cancer cam result in ED.
There are other causes of ED that are not always obvious, including:
- Surgery to treat certain diseases like prostate or bladder cancer, which often requires the removal of tissue and nerve bundles around the affected area. In some cases, the resulting ED is only temporary, and the ability to achieve erections can return within 6-18 months. Unfortunately, some surgical patients experience permanent damage to the nerves and tissue surrounding the penis. In these cases alternative treatments for ED should be weighed.
- Venous leaks, which can be the result of disease or injury to the veins within the penis, can interfere with the penis’s ability to prevent blood from exiting during an erection, and an erection cannot be maintained.
- Injury to the pelvis, spinal cord, or penis that requires surgery.
- Prostate enlargement. An enlarged prostate can be a normal part of the aging process, or it can be a sign of underlying illness.
- Hormonal imbalances, including hormones involving the thyroid, prolactin, and testosterone, often the result of a pituitary gland tumor, liver or kidney disease, or hormone manipulation treatment for prostate cancer.
- Tobacco, alcohol or drug use can restrict blood flow to the penis or damage blood vessels, restricting blood flow to the penis. More than 200 prescription drugs have also been found to cause ED.
If you experience erectile dysfunction, see your physician to find out what can be done to alleviate the problem. Symptoms of ED can be masking a more serious health issue. Your physician can help you determine the cause and an effective course of treatment.