When men become sexually aroused, hormones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels all work with one another to create an erection. Nerve signals, sent from the brain to the penis, stimulate muscles to relax. This, in turn, allows blood to flow to the tissue in the penis. Once the blood fills the penis and an erection is achieved, the blood vessels to the penis close off so that the erection is maintained. Following sexual arousal, the veins to the penis again open up, allowing the blood to leave.
At some point in a man’s life, he may have difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. Erection problems occur when you can’t achieve or maintain an erection that’s firm enough to have sexual intercourse. For most men, this problem occurs occasionally and isn’t a serious issue. However, if you are unable to achieve an erection one-quarter of the time or more, you may have a health problem that requires medical attention. Erection problems are also known as:
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- sexual dysfunction
The causes of ED can be physical, psychological, or a combination of the two. Physical causes of ED are more common in older men. They occur because of disorders that can affect the nerves and blood vessels responsible for causing an erection.
Physical causes of erectile problems include:
- heart disease
- hardening of the arteries
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- Parkinson’s disease
- multiple sclerosis
- Peyronie’s disease
- certain medications, including diuretics, beta blockers, muscle relaxers, or antidepressants
- alcoholism or substance abuse
- long-term tobacco use
- trauma or injury to the spinal cord or genital region
- congenital genitalia problems
- liver or kidney disease
- treatment for prostate problems
Erection problems can also be due to issues of the mind. Emotional issues can distract a man of any age from becoming aroused, and include:
- worry over not being able to achieve or maintain an erection
- prolonged emotional distress related to economic, professional, or social issues
- relationship conflicts
In Young Men
Men ages 20 to 30 may experience ED as well. The numbers suggest more occurrences of ED in young men than previously reported. The Journal of Sexual Medicine reports that 26 percent of men ages 17 to 40 experience trouble having an erection. These cases range from moderate to severe.
Research says erection problems in young men have more to do with their lifestyle and psychological climate than a physical problem. Younger men were found to use more tobacco, alcohol, and drugs than older men. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service suggests that erection problems in young men often stem from anxiety.
Tests and Diagnosis
To accurately find the cause of your erection problems, your doctor may also order tests that include:
- complete blood count (CBC), which is a set of blood tests that checks for low red blood cell count
- hormone profile, which measures the levels of sex hormones (testosterone and prolactin)
- nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), which measures function of your erection during sleep
- duplex ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to take pictures of the body’s tissues
- urinalysis, which measure protein and testosterone levels in the urine
Once your doctor determines the cause of your erection problem, they will provide appropriate treatment.
The complications that come with erection problems are significant and can impact your quality of life. If you experience erection problems, you may also experience:
- stress or anxiety
- low self-esteem
- relationship problems
- dissatisfaction with your sex life
According to American Family Physician, severity of ED is graded on a three-point scale: mild, moderate, and complete. The first step to treating your ED is identifying where you fall on this scale. Additionally, the causes of ED typically pinpoints at least one or more phases of male sexual response. These include: desire, arousal, orgasm, and relaxation. A problem in one or more of these may be the source of the problem.
The good news is once the severity and cause of the disorder is found, ED becomes easy to treat.
Options for treating erection issues may include:
- medications injected into the penis
- medication injected into the urethra
- medications taken by mouth
- vacuum devices
Many of the physical causes of erection problems are related to lifestyle choices. You may want to consider the following changes:
- stopping tobacco use
- drinking less alcohol
- getting plenty of rest
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- talking with your partner about sexual issues
If changes in your lifestyle don’t reduce your symptoms, contact your doctor to find the root cause of the ED. Your doctor will examine your penis, rectum, and prostate as well as your nervous system function. The doctor will also ask you about current health problems and when your symptoms began.
When to Call Your Doctor
If you develop erection problems that get worse over time, you should call your doctor. You should also call your doctor if erection problems develop or worsen after injury or prostate surgery. If you experience ED along with lower back pain or stomach pain, make an appointment with your doctor.
You should also talk to your doctor if you believe a new medication is causing a problem. Medication should be taken until a doctor says otherwise.
To prevent erection problems, engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors. Some of these include:
- maintaining a healthy diet
- keeping a balanced well
- exercising regular
ED is caused by a lack of blood flow. Circulatory health becomes key in prevention. A common way to improve blood flow is through exercise. Some cardio-based exercises include: running, biking, swimming, and aerobics.
A proper diet that avoids fats, excess sugar, and high salt counts is important as well.
Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, can be a cause of erection problems. Another cause may be from the medications prescribed to you. You should consult your physician for more methods of prevention if these diseases are present.
A history of mental health issues or problems with alcohol or drugs may call for treatment. ED has been known to also be a product of stress or psychological issues.
It is important to note that ED is a common issue and can happen in men of all ages. Although ED can be a difficult experience, there are effective treatments available. Follow some of the warning signs of a recurring problem. Visit your doctor if ED has become a frequent trouble for you. Your doctor can walk you through your potential treatment options.