Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

By:    Published: May 10, 2012

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Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is the inability to form or sustain an erect penis for the purpose of sexual intercourse. While erectile dysfunction has commonly been linked to a man’s age, there are other factors that can contribute to this medical condition. It should also be noted that sexual dysfunction is not considered a regular part of aging amongst males. For most men, erectile dysfunction may be an embarrassing topic to discus with a physician. However, if you are suffering from ED, consulting your doctor can help determine if you are suffering from any other health problems.

Understanding An Erection

An erect penis is formed from the combined efforts of hormones, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. Certain nerve singles in the brain are triggered by sexual arousal, causing muscles in the penis to allow blood to enter. This blood is absorbed by the spongy tissue found inside the penis, and it’s retention allows the penis to grow firmer and larger until the point it has become completely erect. Once the penis is fully erected, the blood veins around the penis turn off to keep any blood from escaping. After the male climaxes or loses sexual arousal, the veins reopen, allowing blood to flow out of the penis to be circulated back into the body.

Symptoms

The main symptom for erectile dysfunction is the inability to form or keep an erection. Having an occasional erection issue may not be cause for concern, but frequent problems should be examined by a physician. A reduced or lack of sexual desire is also another symptom of erectile dysfunction. The severity of ED symptoms may vary from person to person.

Causes

In most cases of erectile dysfunction, the cause for the problem is of a physical nature. However, one cannot rule out psychological factors since the process of sexual arousal and penile erection is quite complex.

Any physical damage to the nerves, arteries, muscles and tissues around the penis can cause erectile dysfunction. Physical impairment to these areas caused by certain medical conditions can also result in erectile dysfunction. Here is a list of potential, physical causes of ED:

  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Low testosterone
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism or alcohol abuse
  • Surgical procedures that can possibly damage nerves or arteries near the penis
  • Medical treatments, especially for conditions of the prostate
  • Certain medications

Since the brain is responsible for signaling nerves that play a part in the erection process, different types of psychological distress can interfere with sexual arousal, leading to erectile dysfunction. Some of these issues include:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Relationship issues

Tests and Diagnosis

Once a patient has informed his doctor about erectile dysfunction, certain tests may be performed to look for any underlying health issues. These tests include:

  • Blood tests: this will help determine if the patient is suffering from certain medical conditions that can be the cause of ED, like diabetes or heart disease.
  • Physical exam: this will help determine if there are any physical indicators of damage to the penis, testicles and surrounding nerves.
  • Urine tests: this can also help determine if the cause of ED is a particular health condition.
  • Ultrasound: this allows the doctor to see if there are any issues with the flow of blood towards the penis.
  • Overnight erection test: most men may be aware that erections often occur while sleeping. Though they cannot actually remember an erection while sleeping, many have experienced waking up with a full erection as the result of nocturnal penile tumescence. The overnight test consists of placing special tape around the penis before bed. A break in the tape indicates an erection occurred during sleep, meaning erectile dysfunction is most likely linked to a psychological issue as opposed to a physical one.

Treatment

Those who are suffering from ED due to a health condition like obesity, diabetes or excessive smoking will be told to live a healthier lifestyle as a form of treatment. If ED is being caused by certain medications, the doctor may ask the patient to reduce the dosage or switch to an alternative. Psychotherapy can be used for those suffering from psychological issues that are causing ED.

Perhaps the most widely known form of treatment for erectile dysfunction is oral medications. These popular medications are:

  • Viagra: Sildenafil
  • Levitra: Vardenafil hydrochloride
  • Cialis: Tadalafil

These medications are used within one hour before a man plans on being sexual intimate. They are meant to increase the blood flow to the penis. Men who are using these oral medications to treat ED should always follow the recommended dosage, and should avoid taking this medication more than once a day. Those who take nitroglycerin pills or other nitrate-based drugs for heart issues should avoid taking any ED medication at the same time. Taking both forms of mediation can result in a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

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