Treating erectile dysfunction depends on knowing its cause.
Erectile dysfunction, also known as ED, is a difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection that interferes with sexual performance and satisfaction. Many men occasionally have difficulty maintaining an erection, but this difficulty is only considered erectile dysfunction when it persists over time.
There are many causes of ED, both psychological and physical, and it can sometimes be an indication of a more severe, underlying health problem. One study estimated that nearly 18 million men in the United States experience erectile dysfunction in their lives. However, a 2014 study found that nearly 75 percent of men experiencing ED do not seek help from a doctor.
This is unfortunate because it is often possible to reverse or improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
What causes erectile dysfunction?
There are both physical and mental causes of erectile dysfunction.
Sexual performance is influenced by androgens, testosterone, and other hormones, so ED can be caused by hypogonadism, endocrine disorders, and other hormone imbalances. These factors can cause ED at any age.
Men of any age can experience erectile dysfunction as a side effect of medication, particularly if they take multiple medicines to treat one or more chronic disorders. Erectile dysfunction can also happen after treatment for certain cancers, including rectal and prostate cancer, though some patients find that this type of ED improves on its own in time.
Younger men often experience erectile dysfunction due to stress, anxiety, and other psychological or emotional factors. However, ED occurs most often in men over age 60. As the body ages, decreased blood flow through the arteries, plaque buildup, and weakened muscles in the pelvic floor interfere with achieving an erection.
At any age, erectile dysfunction can be a sign of underlying conditions such as diabetes, or depression. In order to find out the exact cause of your ED and determine the correct course of treatment, it is important to speak with your doctor about all your symptoms, no matter how embarrassing you may find them.
Treatment for erectile dysfunction
The most common medical treatment for erectile dysfunction is sildenafil, commonly known as Viagra, a medication originally developed to treat hypertension that improves blood flow to the penis. But there are other treatments that can be more effective in reversing your ED, depending on the underlying cause.
For men with psychological causes underlying their ED, therapy may help reduce the stress and anxiety that is causing their problem. Acupuncture has also been found to improve sexual performance in men suffering from ED as a side effect of antidepressants.
Reversing erectile dysfunction without medication
Before seeking medication to reverse erectile dysfunction, however, it’s a good idea to try a few lifestyle changes, as researchers have found that these natural remedies can have the most impact at any age and for any underlying cause of ED.
Several studies have found that obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, and a sedentary lifestyle are all associated with higher instances of ED. By contrast, losing weight, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly all improve blood flow through the body, which is a key component of a strong erection.
You can also talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about exercises which target the pelvic floor. These muscles, tissues, and nerves support and control the bladder, rectum, and pelvis, and are essential to sexual performance. Research has found that strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor can reverse symptoms of erectile dysfunction in men of any age. And any type of exercise increases levels of nitric oxide in your blood vessels — the same thing that Viagra does.
Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can also increase your levels of nitric oxide. Alcohol consumption inhibits the central nervous system, which is responsible for releasing nitric oxide. Limiting your alcohol intake to one or fewer drinks per day will improve your body’s ability to attain and maintain an erection.
Drinking less will also improve the quality of your sleep, and poor sleep is associated with sexual dysfunction. Avoiding alcohol before bed, creating a healthy sleep routine, and getting sufficient, regular rest can improve sexual performance and reverse symptoms of ED.
Even if your doctor does recommend medication, it is likely to be more effective when coupled with lifestyle changes that improve your blood flow, nitric oxide levels, muscular function, and overall health.
February 15, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN