Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, can be caused by a wide 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 health is likely to improve, as well as your sexual health and performance.
Smoking and Blood Vessels
You’ve probably heard a lot about the health risks of smoking. That’s because 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 various other tissues throughout the body.
The risk of smoking to your erectile health is specifically 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 are responding to sexual arousal signals from the brain. Even if the nervous system is operating at full strength, an erection might not be physically possible if the blood vessels are unhealthy due to smoking.
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 not only more likely among men who smoked compared to those who never did, but that in younger men with ED, cigarette smoking is very likely the cause of their impotence.
If you are a heavy smoker, research suggests the odds of developing ED are much higher. However, quitting smoking can improve ED symptoms. Be aware that your age, the severity of your ED prior to quitting smoking, and other major health problems may reduce the degree to which healthy erectile function can return.
While ED can be an awkward subject to discuss with your partner or a healthcare provider, the sooner you deal with the issue, the sooner you’ll find a solution. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, but you want to discuss ED with a physician, make an appointment with a urologist or men’s health specialist. ED is a very common health problem, so you shouldn’t feel self-conscious. You may, however, be advised that one of the things you should do soon is quit smoking.
If you’ve tried to quit smoking and been unsuccessful, never assume that quitting is beyond your reach. You should get help and 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 okay 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 smokers kick the habit. If a particular medication seems like a good and safe choice, follow the medication’s instructions precisely.
- 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 one day and have a cigarette doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track and be ultimately successful.