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Impotence

What Can Trigger Erectile Dysfunction?

Last modified: 
10/04/2012 - 16:47

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Some men are more likely to have erectile problems if they are put under emotional or physical strain. In general, seven "triggers" are linked with erectile dysfunction:

Physical causes are more common in older men, while psychological causes are more common in younger men.

  • Medications are the cause in an estimated 25 percent of erectile dysfunction cases.
  • Various illnesses account for up to 75 percent of those people with ED. For example, up to 35 percent of diabetic males may experience impotence at some stage

Illnesses

Illnesses that may affect erections include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart conditions
  • Poor circulation
  • Kidney failure
  • Thyroid deficiency
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Depression

Physical Conditions

Some conditions within the body may cause erectile dysfunction, especially if combined with stress or another trigger. These conditions include:

  • The way you're made. Some men are born with a particularly sensitive blood supply to the penis, which tends to react to stress by closing up, restricting blood flow and causing erectile dysfunction. This is similar to the sensitivity that makes men with a particularly sensitive lining of the stomach develop peptic ulcers under stress.
  • Damage to your blood vessels or nerves because of a health condition. Men with conditions such as atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"), diabetes, or high blood pressure may find it harder to get an erection or maintain it.
  • Low levels of testosterone. However, low testosterone levels, which tend to occur with aging, are more closely associated with a lowering of the sex drive.
  • Prostate surgery. Incontinence and erectile dysfunction are the two most common side effects of prostate surgery. Erectile dysfunction can occur if nerves are damaged during surgery.

Certain Medications

Medications that may affect erections include:

  • Nicotine (as in excessive smoking)
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine, heroine, amphetamines, and other illegal drugs
  • Tranquilizers and sleeping pills
  • Antidepressants
  • Blood pressure medication (beta-blockers)
  • Heart medications (such as digoxin)
  • Some peptic ulcer medication (such as cimetidine)

Stress

Stress related to a job, marriage, or finances is a common cause of erection problems. Ongoing stress may result in erectile dysfunction, which in turn increases stress.

Misinformation, False Beliefs

Sex is still wrapped up in myths and misinformation. Men and women who are unaware of normal changes in sexuality may react with fear and worry when something goes "wrong." Unrealistic expectations - like trying to bring a partner to orgasm every time during intercourse - can make sex a task rather than a pleasure.

Nice To Know:

For many, sex is a taboo subject and is linked to strongly held beliefs. Many of those beliefs are false, unfortunately, but are passed from one generation to the next without question. Examples are:

  • "A real man should always be ready with an erection."
  • "Only women show emotions."
  • "If a main loses an erection, he is a failure in bed."

Men who accept such false beliefs put themselves under unreasonable pressure, and this can affect their ability to have an erection.

Poor Communication

Sex is a form of communication. Couples who cannot talk to each other are not likely to be able to make love to each other. Men who have trouble communicating their feelings may find it difficult to share with their partner any anxieties about their sexual performance. By keeping these worries to themselves, men become vulnerable to losing their erections.

Men who cannot express and resolve feelings of anger, frustration, or hostility towards their partner may hold back their erection as a weapon in the marital conflict.

The Vicious Circle

Losing an erection every once in a while happens to virtually everyone and should not be cause for alarm. Men who realize that this experience is normal and who keep it in perspective often will recover their erections soon afterwards. Those who continue to have problems could be experiencing a physical condition that needs correction, or could be caught in "the vicious circle of failure."

Men who are unsure of themselves, feel sexually insecure, have unrealistic expectations, and cannot share their anxieties with their partners are more likely to lose confidence in themselves. They may think they are getting old, and they expect more failure. Expecting failure can only cause failure, which reinforces the self-doubt. This vicious circle gets firmly established by negative reactions from the man, his partner, or both.

Nice To Know:

I was taught that too much sex and masturbation could cause a man to have erectile problems as he gets older. True?

No. Erectile dysfunction has nothing to do with how much sex you've had. You can't "overuse" your sexuality.

 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.