Preventing Erectile Dysfunction

Written by Shawn Radcliffe | Published on March 13, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on March 13, 2014

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is the inability of a man to get or keep an erection long enough to have sex. Occasional difficulty achieving an erection is not usually cause for concern. However, frequent or consistent problems can cause:

  • unsatisfying sex life
  • decreased self-confidence
  • stress
  • relationship problems
  • difficulty conceiving a baby

Erectile dysfunction can also be a sign of a more serious health problem, such as heart disease or diabetes.

While there are several treatments for erectile dysfunction, it is also possible to prevent the condition or reduce how severe the symptoms are. The best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is by making healthy lifestyle choices and managing chronic diseases that may be linked to it.

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

A strong flow of blood to the penis is essential for getting and keeping an erection. In addition, the brain, nerves, hormones, and emotions can also impact a person’s ability to have an erection.

A problem with any one of these can lead to erectile dysfunction. The cause can be physical or psychological. Physical causes include diseases, medical conditions, injuries, and drugs. Psychological causes include stress and mental health problems.

Often, erectile dysfunction involves a combination of both physical and psychological issues.

What Are the Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction?

Any condition or disease that affects the flow of blood into or out of the penis can increase your chance of developing erectile dysfunction. Such conditions include:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • tobacco use
  • alcoholism or other substance abuse
  • treatments for prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate
  • injuries or surgeries that affect the spinal cord or pelvic area

Psychological issues can also lead to erectile dysfunction, including:

  • depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems
  • stress
  • relationship problems caused by poor communication or other issues

How Is Erectile Dysfunction Prevented?

Healthy Lifestyle

Making healthy lifestyle choices may help prevent erectile dysfunction. Try to reduce your risk of developing diseases linked to erectile dysfunction, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

  • Eat a healthy diet. This can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Limit your intake of saturated fat, eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, eat more whole grains, and limit your intake of added sugars.
  • Stop smoking. Tobacco use not only reduces blood flow to the penis, but also increases the risk of heart disease, which is linked to erectile dysfunction.
  • Maintain an ideal body weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing erectile dysfunction. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can both help a person achieve a healthy weight.
  • Regular exercise helps with weight loss, increases blood flow, and reduces stress.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation and avoid using illegal drugs. Excessive use of alcohol and other substance abuse can increase the chance of developing erectile dysfunction.

Bicycling is an excellent form of exercise, but sitting on a bicycle seat for long periods can compress the nerves or arteries that are involved in forming an erection. To avoid this, use a wide seat with lots of padding, or one with the groove down the center that avoids compressing the center of your groin. During long bike rides, taking a break or shifting your position once in a while can help.

Monitoring Your Health

Close monitoring of your health can help you detect medical conditions before they impact sex life.

Visit your doctor for regular physical checkups and health screenings, including tests on blood pressure and cholesterol. Erectile dysfunction can also be an early sign of heart disease, so talk to your doctor about problems with getting or maintaining an erection.

Several medications can also affect erections, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and medications to treat pain, high blood pressure, and prostate cancer. If you are taking mediations that seem to cause erectile dysfunction, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Keeping Mentally Fit

Erectile dysfunction is usually caused by physical problems. But it can also have mental and emotional causes. In addition, minor difficulty achieving an erection can lead to stress, which can make matters worse.

Here are ways you can take care of mental health:

  • Deal with stress before it becomes severe. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help with relaxation. Activities such yoga and meditation may also help.
  • Get help for anxiety or depression, such as counseling or medication.
  • Work through relationship issues by improved communication or counseling.
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