If you find yourself having trouble getting or keeping an erection, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 30 million men in the United States have erectile dysfunction (ED).
Although you may be quick to write off ED as the result of age or relationship issues, there may be another root cause.
“A lot of men view changes in their sexual performance as normal. But erectile dysfunction can have a variety of causes that could be attributable to underlying health conditions,” says urologist Keith O’Brien, MD, with Tallwood Men’s Health in Fairfield.
Dr. O’Brien breaks down possible causes of erectile dysfunction – including underlying health conditions – and when you should think about speaking with your doctor.
1. Cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular issues such as hyperlipidemia and high blood pressure can cause a buildup of plaque, narrowing the heart’s arteries. This can impact the blood flow in the body, including the penis.
“It affects oxygen transport, which is important in erection physiology,” says Dr. O’Brien. “This primarily affects the blood vessels that feed to the penis.”
“ED can be related to glycemic control if someone has diabetes,” says Dr. O’Brien.
If blood sugars are poorly controlled it can lead to damage to the blood vessels and nerves, which can include those connected to the penis.
3. Depression and anxiety
For some men, depression and anxiety about sexual performance can play a role in the inability to get or maintain an erection. Several antidepressants can also cause erectile dysfunction as a side effect.
“I always first start with the discussion about performance and perhaps some of the psychological weight of that,” says Dr. O’Brien. “I may offer sex therapy, which is something unique to Tallwood. We have a behavioral therapist on site in Fairfield.”
When to see a doctor
If you think that you may have erectile dysfunction, your doctor can help determine if it’s a sign of something more serious.
The causes of ED can be complicated and there may be more than one. Possible causes include inactivity, substance abuse, low testosterone, prior surgeries, medication side effects and injury.
How a men’s health doctor can help
At Tallwood Men’s Health, patients start by completing a comprehensive men’s health questionnaire. By delving into their health history, experts are able to create a unique care plan.
“ED may be a condition that leads someone to make an appointment and get checked out, but it could be a gateway to discussions about other domains of their health,” said Dr. O’Brien. “That’s the spirit of our men’s health center. You could potentially have a one-stop shopping experience under one roof, where you can see a cardiologist or a psychologist if you need to.”