Published December 19, 2011
Occasional erectile trouble can happen to all men, but persistent trouble getting or keeping an erection can point to an underlying health condition, according to medical experts. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the inability to maintain an erection firm enough for sex on an ongoing basis. Symptoms can include trouble getting an erection, trouble keeping an erection or reduced sexual desire, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While erectile dysfunction was once considered an emotional issue, consistently unsuccessful erections may indicate physical disorders such as heart disease or uncontrolled diabetes, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic. Whether physical or emotional, ED can cause worry and stress, possibly aggravating symptoms.
An erection begins in the brain, where nerves sense sexual stimulation. Those signals are sent to the penis, which in response relaxes, allowing blood to flow into the surrounding spongy tissue. As this tissue becomes saturated, the penis grows larger and firmer. The veins are then shut off to keep the blood inside. Over the whole process, an erection requires the body to function on a number of levels, involving the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. A problem with any of these parts can result in erectile dysfunction.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), many cases of erectile dysfunction can be traced to a physical ailment. Underlying health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes may cause ED. Mental health conditions, such as depression, stress, anxiety or emotional issues within a relationship can also lead to erectile dysfunction. Unhealthy lifestyle habits, like the abuse of alcohol and drugs, smoking, or the lack of exercise can also be a factor. The NIH advises that anything that that is bad for your heart can also be bad for your sexual health. Nerve damage from conditions like multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries can also interfere with erections.
If you are suffering from ED, it is important to speak with a doctor. Treatment for an underlying condition may be enough to restore erections, according to the Mayo Clinic. A physical exam, including blood tests and an examination of the penis and testes, can help a doctor pinpoint the cause of ED.
For men with no evident physical or mental health condition, a change in lifestyle might be the solution. Healthy eating and regular exercise can fine tune the body and keep a healthy blood flow. ED linked to emotional issues, such as stress or anxiety, may be helped with psychological therapy. Counseling can also assist couples having problems.
Oral medications have grown increasingly popular for treating erectile dysfunction. Pill brands like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis can help some men reach erection. These pills increase blood flow to the penis, but medical experts say they might not immediately fix ED. A health care professional can help determine what drugs may be effective and warn users of any possible side effects. While most pills are taken orally, the doctor may recommend a tiny pill that goes directly into the penis.
Injection therapies are a viable alternative to pills. Medicines like Caverject and Edex are injected directly into the penis shaft with a needle. This procedure usually induces an erection within a few minutes. If other forms of treatment are unsuccessful, these medications may do the trick, the NIH explains.
Vacuum tubes are a chemical-free treatment for erectile dysfunction. A man inserts his penis into a vacuum tube, which pumps air outward and causes blood to flow into the penis. An elastic ring at the base of the penis prevents blood from flowing back out.
Doctors say most cases of ED can be corrected, but a number of treatments might be attempted before you find the one that works best.