J. Nicholas (Nick) Warner, M.D.
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Get a group of men together, and the conversation is likely to weave around many topics. Weather, politics, sports, hobbies, work or travel all are likely. But it's unlikely that erectile dysfunction will be freely discussed. That's because most men don't like to talk about it. It may create feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt and inadequacy.
Erectile dysfunction, formerly called impotence, is a term that refers to the continued inability to obtain an acceptable erection for satisfactory sexual activity. More than 150 million men worldwide experience some form of erectile dysfunction.
Misconceptions or misunderstandings about erectile dysfunction may cause some men to forgo treatment.
Let's debunk some common myths to help men start talking about this condition:
Myth: Erectile dysfunction only affects men over age 70.
Fact: Erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, but it can occur at any age. It affects about half of men ages 40–70.
Some erectile function changes with age. Erections may take longer to develop, may not be as rigid or may require more direct stimulation to be achieved. Men may notice that orgasms are less intense, the volume of ejaculate is reduced and recovery time increases between erections. While these changes are expected, the persistent inability to obtain a satisfactory erection is not a normal part of aging.
Myth: Erectile dysfunction is annoying but not dangerous.
Fact: Erectile dysfunction can be a wake-up call that you're at greater risk for some life-threatening conditions. This includes heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke.
The same factors that contribute to heart disease and stroke can cause erectile dysfunction. A man in the early stages of heart disease could develop erectile dysfunction long before he experiences heart symptoms. This is because the arteries supplying the penis are smaller than the heart. If you develop erectile dysfunction, it's recommended that you be screened for heart disease, diabetes, hardening of the arteries and elevated blood pressure.
Myth: Erectile dysfunction is all in your mind.
Fact: In the past, psychological factors alone were thought to cause erectile dysfunction. Now medical specialists know that physical conditions can cause or contribute to erection problems.
Many diseases can cause an inability to achieve or maintain an erection. This includes diabetes; nerve damage; heart disease; and chronic disease of the lungs, liver or kidneys. Also, many medications can interfere with nerve impulses or blood flow to the penis. Some antidepressants, antihistamines and sleeping aids, and certain drugs to treat high blood pressure; pain; prostate cancer; and stomach, bowel or bladder conditions, are known to contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Sometimes erectile dysfunction can result from depression, stress, anxiety or fatigue. Personal relationship problems may cause difficulty achieving an erection, as well.
Myth: Erectile dysfunction means there is something wrong with the penis.
Fact: To produce an erection, a man needs a healthy brain and penis, healthy blood vessels and nerves, and adequate amounts of the male hormone testosterone. If any aspect of this system is affected, erectile dysfunction can result.
While a problem with the penis' erectile bodies or blood flow could cause erectile dysfunction, there are many other potential causes, as well. A complete physical examination and medical history with a health care professional can help determine the cause of your erectile dysfunction and appropriate treatment options.
Myth: If you struggle in the bedroom once, you have erectile dysfunction.
Fact: It's normal to have difficulty maintaining an erection occasionally. It happens to most men and is perfectly normal. Talk with your primary care provider if it becomes a persistent problem and interferes with your self-image or sex life.
Myth: Erectile dysfunction means you're not attracted to your partner.
Fact: There many possible causes of erectile dysfunction. Personal relationship problems may cause difficulty achieving an erection. However, it's likely caused by a different reason. If you enjoy your partner's company, it's likely that stress, anxiety, fatigue, specific medications or other health conditions are causing your erectile dysfunction.
Myth: Taking testosterone supplements will cure erectile dysfunction.
Fact: Hormonal changes, like low levels of testosterone, can cause erectile dysfunction, but this is not the only cause. Talk with your health care team before beginning testosterone supplements.
Myth: Medications are the only way to treat erectile dysfunction.
Fact: Many options are available to treat erectile dysfunction. Medications work for some men, but others benefit from simple mechanical devices, surgery or counseling. Learn more about erectile dysfunction treatment options.
Erectile dysfunction can become a source of stress for a man and his partner. If you experience erectile dysfunction occasionally, try not to assume that you have a permanent problem or expect it to happen again.
If you have more frequent difficulties, talk with your primary care provider. Working together, you and your health care team can determine the cause of your symptoms and explore treatment options for a satisfying sexual life.