What causes erectile dysfunction?


Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is when a man struggles to get or maintain an erection hard enough for sex. Some men find it difficult to get an erection to start with, others struggle to maintain an erection before sex and others may not be able to get an erection which is hard enough for penetration.

Problems with erections can be a common problem and can affect men of any age, but particularly those over the age of 40. If you regularly struggle to get an erection, speak to your Doctor.

Most men can occasionally fail to get or keep an erection, usually due to the following:

  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Anxiety
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Causes of regular or longer-term bouts of erectile dysfunction can be a result of a number of reasons. These tend to be either physical or psychological, or a combination of the two. 

Lifestyle changes to help with ED

Symptoms of ED can sometimes be brought on because of physical issues such as a lack of exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol. Living with one of these issues, or more, can affect blood flow to the penis which can lead to erectile dysfunction. As a result, you could try to help manage your ED symptoms – and help improve your general health at the same time – by making some lifestyle changes such as:

  • Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Increasing the amount of exercise you do
  • Limiting your intake of alcohol 
  • Not taking illegal drugs
  • Trying to reduce your stress levels

Physical factors & health conditions

Living with certain health conditions may be another possible cause why some men may be experiencing symptoms of erectile dysfunction. This can either be because of the condition itself, a side effect of any medication that a man may be taking for a specific condition – or a mix of both. Some examples of conditions that can contribute towards ED include:

  • High blood pressure 
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Narrowing of penis blood vessels

Psychological factors

Psychological factors and ED can sometimes go hand in hand, so it’s important that these are addressed. These can include:

  • Anxiety – this can be around gaining an erection or not performing well sexually. Anxiety can also increase heart rate and fatigue, having a negative effect on your sexual performance
  • Stress – this can affect your ability to achieve and maintain an erection hard enough for sex
  • Depression – this can affect both sexual drive and the ability to achieve and maintain an erection hard enough for sex. Depression isn’t always easy to diagnose, so speak to your Doctor if you feel you may be suffering from any of the symptoms.

It’s also important to consider any emotional problems within your relationship due to stress, poor communication or other concerns. Working through these problems can help.

Treatment options for ED

If making simple changes to your lifestyle doesn’t help your ED symptoms, there are other options available – including oral treatments. There are currently four oral medicines available for erectile dysfunction. They are: Sildenafil, Tadalafil, Vardenafil and Avanafil.

If you do start any oral drugs for erectile dysfunction, you should speak to your Doctor to discuss the new medicine you’re taking and so they can give you a health check for your erectile dysfunction symptoms.

You should always speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of ED, so they can carry out the necessary assessments to determine what’s at the root cause of your erectile dysfunction issues. Trouble getting an erection can be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart problems, so it’s essential that you visit your Doctor so this can be ruled out. Once your doctor understands what’s causing your ED, you’ll then be given your treatment options.

Other impotence treatments can include:

  • Vacuum pumps
  • Injectable medicines
  • Topical creams
  • Hormone therapy
  • Counselling
  • Surgery