8 possible causes of erectile dysfunction

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What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition in which a man is unable to achieve or sustain an erection. Many men have erection problems at times. Often, there is no need to worry and the problem resolves itself.

Erection problems can occur at any age, although the likelihood of erectile dysfunction increases as men get older.

ED can happen at any age

Most men occasionally fail to get or keep an erection. This is usually only temporary and can be caused by tiredness or drinking too much alcohol. Usually, it's nothing to worry about and erectile function restores itself automatically.

Sometimes, however, the symptoms persist. Obviously, this can have a devastating effect on a person’s sex life. If the problem has become an obstacle, then it is considered erectile dysfunction. ED can be caused by a variety of factors. Age is one of them. But there are also other psychological and physical factors that can contribute to ED – even if you are still young.

Is ED more common after the age of 50?

Erectile dysfunction is not an age-related condition. That’s a myth. But it is true that the older a man is, the greater the chance of erectile dysfunction. This is not an encouraging thought, but it makes sense: as the body ages, all kinds of processes become more and more difficult, including the ability to get an erection.

This is mainly because the veins become less flexible at an older age. For example, due to atherosclerosis or a disease such as diabetes.

Can vein health affect the ability of a man to get an erection?

Blood supply to the penis plays an important role in getting an erection. Sexual stimulation causes the blood vessels in the penis to widen. This increases blood flow to the corpora cavernosa, which causes the spongy tissues of the penis to swell and harden and become erect. The blood doesn’t flow out of the penis, so that the erection is maintained in response to sexual stimulation.

Blood vessels can become stiff and lose elasticity, which reduces their ability to dilate. As a result, less blood is transported to the penis, which causes the penis to stay flaccid or the erection to fail prematurely. The blood also flows out of the corpora cavernosa faster, resulting in erection loss.

Physical causes of ED

One of the main causes of ED, or impotence, is limited blood flow. But there are more causes. We have listed the most important ones below.

  1. Atherosclerosis
    Hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow to the corpus cavernosum in the penis.
  2. High cholesterol/high blood pressure
    These conditions increase the risk of atherosclerosis.
  3. Diabetes
    Diabetes decreases the elasticity of blood vessels. It also increases the risk of damage to nerves that control the erection process.
  4. Reduced testosterone production
    Testosterone plays a key role in sex drive (libido). Low testosterone is a possible cause of low libido. Testosterone levels drop significantly with age.
  5. Underactive thyroid gland
    This condition is also a possible cause of low libido.
  6. Obesity
    People with morbid obesity (BMI> 30) are four times more likely to develop ED then people with a healthy weight.
  7. Smoking and use of alcohol and drugs
    Long-term use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs can cause damage to blood vessels, which can impair a man’s ability to get an erection. Alcohol and drug use also contribute to loss of libido.
  8. Medication
    ED can be a side effect of medicines, such as beta blockers and antidepressants.

Ageing increases the risk of health issues. This explains why ED is more prevalent in older men.

Average age for ED

ED doesn't have to be a part of getting older. It's not like you won't be able to get an erection after your 50th birthday. ED tends to develop gradually. Viagra manufacturer Pfizer has published the below figures on the average age of men with ED.

  • Ages 20 to 40: 5% of men have ED.
  • Ages 40 to 70: 14% of men have ED.
  • Ages 70 to 80: 42% of men have ED.

As you can see, the average age for ED is quite high.

Younger than 50 and erection problems?

It is believed that physical problems are less likely to cause erection problems in younger men. Of course, it is not impossible that someone in their twenties or thirties has a health problem that is preventing them from getting an erection. However, it is more likely that erection problems in younger men are caused by emotional issues. We have listed the most important ones below.

  • Performance anxiety.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Body or penis insecurities.
  • Communication problems between partners, or relationship problems.
  • Upbringing: some people are raised believing that sex is something dirty or bad.
  • Misconceptions: 'men are always interested in sex', or 'sex without orgasm is not real sex'.
  • Depression or burnout.

Is there an upper or lower age limit for ED treatments?

ED is a very common health problem. Fortunately, there are many different treatment options for both young and older men. If you suffer from ED, it's advisable to see a GP. They can determine if it's a sign of an underlying health condition and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist, such as a urologist, counsellor or sex therapist.

If appropriate, they can also prescribe ED medications. Even for younger men. However, medication does not cure ED. The ability to achieve an erection can be restored (temporarily), allowing you to enjoy sex again.

Is ED avoidable?

Of course, prevention is better than cure. A healthy lifestyle may, to a large extent, help prevent erection problems later in life. A healthy lifestyle includes a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep and relaxation.

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