Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem. According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC), occasional ED affects up to 30 million men each year. ED in younger adult men is often temporary. However, the incidence increases with age—four percent of men over the age of 50 and more than 17 percent of men in their 60s experience a total inability to get and maintain and erection. (NKUDIC, 2012). However, ED is not a natural consequence of aging, and it doesn’t have to ruin your sex life or your self-esteem.
ED can be caused by a variety of factors, including certain medications, injuries, chronic diseases and mental disorders, and even drug use. Although not all ED is preventable, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of ED.
Whole body health contributes to sexual health. It is important to keep your arteries and nerves healthy to maintain good circulation and prevent damage later on.
Poor diet and exercise and unhealthy behaviors can increase your risk for ED, as well as other health conditions. There are number of lifestyle changes that can help you stay healthy. To reduce your risk of ED, consider:
- losing weight
- exercising regularly
- eating well
- quitting smoking
- avoiding excessive alcohol use
Chronic diseases are some of the major causes of ED. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes significantly increase ED risk in older men. Therefore, it is important to control chronic diseases by taking all medications as directed and leading a healthier lifestyle. Doing so can help you maintain functional erections.
You’ll want to:
- regulate your blood sugar
- try to keep blood pressure at healthy levels
- manage your cholesterol through diet and medication, if needed
- take medications for chronic conditions, if needed
In addition to the aforementioned diseases and conditions, prostate disorders—specifically, prostate cancer and treatment—often cause ED. Surgery to remove the prostate gland and surrounding tissues, called a radical prostatectomy, can often damage nerves and tissues near the penis, which can lead to ED. However, studies have found that getting erections after surgery can help prevent ED in the future. These erections usually require injections, vacuum pumps, or other assistance. This is also called penile rehabilitation.
Although controversial, penile rehabilitation seems to improve the health of the penile tissue. It appears to improve blood flow and prevent scarring.
Additional research has shown that regular intercourse—at least once per week—reduced the risk for developing ED in men aged 55 to 75.
Mental and emotional stress can also contribute to ED, and in some cases, may even be the underlying cause of ED. Depression and anxiety can interfere with your ability to get and maintain an erection, which in turn can create additional stress. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety that interfere with your day-to-day activities, including your sex life, talk to your doctor. There are a variety of treatment options available.
No matter the cause of your ED, open, honest communication is crucial for treatment and prevention. ED can undoubtedly affect your sex life and relationships, and creates a significant amount of stress. However, failing to manage that stress can actually exacerbate ED. Talking to your partner about what you are experiencing can help alleviate stress and may also help you and your partner find other forms of intimacy while you are seeking treatment for ED.
While ED can be an uncomfortable or potentially embarrassing subject, having a frank discussion about your symptoms with your doctor is the first step towards finding treatment.