Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, can be caused by a range of physical and psychological factors. Among them is cigarette smoking. It’s not surprising since smoking can damage your blood vessels, and ED is often a result of poor arterial blood supply to the penis. Fortunately, if you quit smoking, your vascular and sexual health and performance are likely to improve.
Smoking and your blood vessels
There are many health risks of smoking. Cigarette smoking can damage just about every part of your body. The chemicals in cigarette smoke injure the lining of your blood vessels and affect the way they function. Those chemicals can also harm your heart, brain, kidneys, and other tissues throughout the body.
The risk of smoking to your erectile health is due to the effects of cigarette chemicals on the blood vessels in the penis. An erection results when the arteries in the penis expand and fill with blood after receiving signals from nerves in the penis. The nerves respond to sexual arousal signals from the brain. Even if the nervous system is operating well, an erection might not be physically possible if the blood vessels are unhealthy due to smoking.
What does the research show?
While ED tends to be more common as men get older, it can develop at any adult age. A 2005 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that ED is more likely in men who smoked compared with those who never did. But in younger men with ED, cigarette smoking is very likely the cause.
If you are a heavy smoker, research suggests the odds of developing ED are much higher. However, quitting smoking can improve ED symptoms. Your age, the severity of your ED before quitting smoking, and other major health problems may reduce the degree that healthy erectile function can return.
The sooner you deal with ED, the sooner you’ll find a solution. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, make an appointment with a urologist or men’s health specialist. ED is a very common health problem. You may, however, be advised that one of the things you should do is quit smoking.
If you’ve tried to quit smoking and been unsuccessful, don’t assume quitting is impossible. Take a new approach this time. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends the following steps to help you quit smoking:
- Make a list of the reasons you want to quit and why your earlier attempts to quit were unsuccessful.
- Pay attention to your smoking triggers, such as drinking alcohol or coffee.
- Get support from family and friends. It’s OK to admit that you need assistance in overcoming a powerful addiction like smoking.
- Talk with your doctor about prescription and over-the-counter medications designed to help with smoking cessation. If a medication seems like a good choice, follow the medication’s instructions.
- Find new alternatives to smoking and activities that can distract you from cigarette cravings, such as exercise or hobbies to occupy your hands and your mind.
- Be prepared for cravings and setbacks. Just because you slip up and have a cigarette doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track and be successful.