Impotence, often known as erectile dysfunction, occurs when a man is unable to get and maintain an erection; it can be a very embarrassing problem for men, but it is actually very common, affecting more than half of men over the age of 50 years old.
What Causes Impotence?
There are various causes of impotence and they include both psychological and physical factors. Physical factors tend to cause erectile dysfunction in older men, while psychological causes are more common among younger men.
Physical Causes of Impotence
An erection is caused by increased blood flow to the penis, which is triggered by sexual arousal. In most cases of erectile dysfunction, the cause is linked to conditions that reduce blood flow to the penis; these are known as vasculogenic conditions. Examples of vasculogenic conditions include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Cardiovascular disease affects the heart muscle and the vessels surrounding the heart, which are responsible for transporting blood and oxygen around the body. Major risk factors for high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease include:
- Being overweight or obese
- A poor diet high in fat, salt and sugar
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive or prolonged alcohol consumption
- Family history
Other physical causes of erectile dysfunction include neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, hormonal conditions and anatomical problems, such as abnormalities affecting the structure of the penis; Peyronie’s disease is an example of an anatomical cause.
Taking certain types of medication, including anti-depressants, anti-histamines and anticonvulsants can cause erectile dysfunction as a side-effect; your doctor will ask you if you are taking any medication when you see them and discuss your symptoms; often, changing medication can solve the problem.
Psychological Causes of Impotence
Impotence can be caused by psychological factors, including reduced libido, stress, anxiety, and depression; often, with mental causes, the more anxious or stressed a man becomes about the issue of impotence, the worse the problem gets.
Stress is a common cause of impotence; many men suffer from stress, which may be associated with pressure at work, family or relationship troubles, financial worries or traumatic life events, such as a bereavement. Anxiety and depression are also linked to erectile dysfunction.
Psychological causes can be more difficult to diagnose because there are no obvious visible symptoms; however, there are treatments available to address psychological causes and they are usually very effective.
What Can Be Done?
There are many different treatment options for erectile dysfunction, including psychological therapies and physiological treatments. The most common form of treatment for cases caused by physical factors is medication, known as PDE-5 inhibitors, which is used to increase blood flow to the penis. In many cases, especially when the cause is suspected to be diabetes, cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, lifestyle changes will be recommended; this includes losing weight, cutting out fatty, processed foods that are high in cholesterol, reducing alcohol intake, exercising on a regular basis and giving up smoking. Examples of psychological treatments include couple’s therapy, stress management techniques and counseling or medication for depression and anxiety.
The majority of cases of erectile dysfunction can be treated successfully.