Erectile dysfunction is an emotionally, if not physically, painful and frustrating condition, and it can have a number of causes, from the mental to the physical. Although a combination of the two can cause or exacerbate the condition, a physical issue is the most common cause overall.
It might seem like the most basic of biological processes, but an erection is the result of a complex combination of systems, including the neurological, muscular, and hormonal, as well as blood vessels and nerves. The problem can originate in any of these areas, or in a combination of them.
Because blood flow is so integral to male arousal, a problem in the heart or blood vessels can affect it greatly: heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blocked arteries, and clogged blood vessels (medically known as atherosclerosis) are all typical causes of erectile dysfunction. Cardiovascular diseases are among the most common physical reasons behind the condition, so they’re likely some of the first that a doctor will consider when diagnosing.
High blood sugar levels from diabetes affect both blood flow and nerve endings, so when it’s not properly managed, it can affect the ability to get or maintain an erection. Obesity and metabolic syndrome, which comes with increased blood pressure, insulin levels, and belly weight, are also possibilities.
Hormonal problems, of course, may also be to blame. Imbalances in hormone levels reduce libido, decreasing interest in sex as well as the ability to maintain an erection. Kidney or liver disease can affect hormones, or they can be the cause of erectile dysfunction themselves.
Disorders of the brain that prevent the appropriate signals from being fired include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and stroke. Physical damage is another potential cause: an injury to the pelvic area, bladder, or spinal cord, especially those severe enough to require surgery, may be to blame. Other surgeries can have an effect on nerves and tissue; it’s usually temporary, but if it becomes permanent, therapeutic methods are available.
Most men experience erectile dysfunction at some point, but when it occurs regularly you should consult a doctor in case there’s an underlying physical cause.