Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is the consistent inability to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. It can be:
- A total inability to have an erection
- The ability to have an erection, but only some of the time
- A tendency to only sustain brief erections
Erections occur when sexual stimulation and excitement cause the brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels and hormones to work together to produce a rapid increase in the amount of blood flowing to the erectile tissue of the penis. The blood becomes trapped and held in the two spongy chambers (called the corpus cavernosa) in the shaft of the penis. As the chambers fill with blood they expand and the penis becomes firm and elongated.
Erectile dysfunction is common in men as they age, but also affects men at all stages of life.
In most cases, erectile dysfunction is a symptom with a physical cause.
Erectile dysfunction: what is it and what causes it?
Over 80% of men suffering from erectile dysfunction can trace its origin back to a physical problem or disorder. Physical causes of erectile dysfunction include:
- Diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease.
- Operations such as prostate removal that cause local trauma to the erectile mechanism
- Substance use such as use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs or some medications
- Hormonal disorders such as low testosterone
- Peyronie’s disease
- Surgeries or injuries that effect the pelvic area (such as prostatectomy) or the brain and spinal cord
It is a common misconception that erectile dysfunction is primarily caused by psychological issues but this isn’t always true. Thoughts and emotions always play a role in getting an erection, but erectile dysfunction can be primarily caused by something physical. In some cases, it may be the first sign of an underlying medical problem. As such, while treatment for erectile dysfunction may involve sexual counselling, medical and surgical interventions are also available and effective.