Erectile dysfunction – when is it a cause for concern?

Erectile dysfunction – when is it a cause for concern?
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Impotence, while not a life-threatening condition in itself, is not to be taken lightly. It is worth being aware that erectile dysfunction can actually herald fatal health problems.

A few facts

  • erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as persistent difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse,
  • the causes are usually medical, but can also be psychological,
  • organic causes are usually the result of an underlying disease affecting the blood vessels or nerves supplying the penis,
  • numerous prescription drugs, recreational drugs, alcohol and smoking can cause erectile dysfunction.


Whether the cause is simple or serious, a proper diagnosis can help address any underlying medical issues and help resolve sexual problems.

Some of the most common medical causes include:

  • heart disease and vasoconstriction,
  • diabetes,
  • high blood pressure,
  • high cholesterol,
  • obesity and metabolic syndrome,
  • hormone disorders, including thyroid disease and testosterone deficiency,
  • smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse, including cocaine use,
  • treatment of prostate disease,
  • surgical complications,
  • pelvic or spinal cord injuries,
  • radiation therapy to the pelvic area.

Numerous prescription drugs can also cause erectile dysfunction. Anyone taking prescription drugs should consult with their doctor before stopping or changing medications:

  • medications to control high blood pressure,
  • cardiac medications,
  • medicines that affect the central nervous system, including some sleeping pills and amphetamines,
  • antidepressants,
  • opioid painkillers,
  • certain cancer medicines, including chemotherapeutic agents,
  • drugs used to treat the prostate,
  • hormonal drugs.
Photo by Thiago Schlemper/Pexels

Psychological causes

In rare cases, a man may have always had erectile dysfunction and may never achieve an erection. This is called primary erectile dysfunction, and the cause is almost always psychological if there is no obvious anatomical deformity or physiological problem. Such psychological factors may include: guilt, fear of intimacy, depression, severe anxiety.


The type of medical professional who treats ED will depend on the cause of the problem. Based on your medical history and current health, your doctor may treat you with oral medications (Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, Kamagra).

If these options fail, you may be referred to a urologist who can help with other non-surgical options, such as a vacuum device or injections, or surgical treatment options. If necessary, your doctor may also refer you to a psychologist who specializes in sexual dysfunction.

ED can be treated in many ways, including through:

  • oral medications,
  • sex therapy,
  • penile injections,
  • vacuum devices,
  • transurethral medications,
  • surgery (penile implant).

The first step to treating erectile dysfunction is to find the cause. Then the appropriate treatment can begin. There are many non-surgical and surgical options that can help a man regain normal sexual function.


For those who are at risk for erectile dysfunction due to personal behaviors (diet, sports, etc.), steps can be taken to try to prevent its occurrence. However, other causes cannot be prevented.

Many studies now suggest a link between erectile dysfunction and obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

  1. Eat a healthy diet. A diet that limits saturated fat intake and includes several servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products may benefit men with erectile dysfunction.
  2. Reduce cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can harden, narrow or block the arteries (atherosclerosis) leading to the penis. Men can lower cholesterol through diet, exercise, and medication.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. Choose workouts that you enjoy and that will be a regular part of your day. In addition to reducing the risk of erectile dysfunction, exercise can also help you cope with stress. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

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