As a man, it’s normal to have trouble getting or keeping an erection occasionally. However, if you frequently find it difficult to get an erection or maintain a firm enough erection to have sex, you might have erectile dysfunction (ED).
Erectile dysfunction is the inability for a man to get and maintain an erection that’s firm enough to have penetrative sex. ED is also referred to as impotence, but the term “impotence” is used less often when referring to this common condition.
The most common symptom of erectile dysfunction is is exactly what you’d expect -- difficulty getting and/or maintaining an erection during sex. If your ED is persistent, it can also cause mental symptoms, such as reduced confidence and less interest in sexual activity.
Below, we’ve listed several of the most common symptoms of erectile dysfunction, as well as how each one may affect you.
One of the most obvious signs of ED is difficulty getting an erection. You might find it difficult to get hard, even if you’re in the mood for sex. In some cases, you might find it challenging to get any erection, while in others you may find it difficult to get a firm enough erection for sex.
In addition to making it difficult to get an erection, ED can involve difficulty keeping an erection during sexual intercourse.
Even if you can get an erection before sexual activity without much difficulty, you may find that it’s difficult to stay hard while you’re having sex. Even if you don’t fully lose your erection, you may notice that your penis becomes less firm during sexual intercourse.This loss of penile firmness can affect your enjoyment of sex and may make it difficult to reach orgasm and ejaculate.
Because of its effects on sexual performance, erectile dysfunction can cause sometimes result in psychological problems, such as sexual performance anxiety, depression or a reduced level of interest in sex.
When ED is severe or persistent, it can also affect your relationships and contribute to reduced intimacy and an unfulfilled sex life.
Erectile dysfunction can occur for a range of reasons. Sometimes, it’s caused by one or several physical problems that affect blood flow or nerve function. In other cases, it may be caused by a psychological issue that affects your self-confidence or sexual arousal.
Since erections depend on proper nerve function and healthy, consistent blood flow, a variety of physical issues can potentially cause ED. Physical causes of erectile dysfunction include:
Because blood flow plays such an important role in erections, common forms of heart disease such as coronary artery disease (CAD) are often linked to erectile dysfunction.
Elevated blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and reduce blood flow throughout your body. This may cause or worsen erectile dysfunction.
When your arteries become clogged due to plaque buildup from high cholesterol, it can affect blood flow. This can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction is closely associated with diabetes. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can reduce blood circulation and nerve function, both of which are important for healthy erections.
Having kidney disease can significantly increase your risk of developing erectile dysfunction. Approximately 70 percent of men with end stage renal disease are affected by ED.
Some hormonal conditions, such as hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (high levels of thyroid hormone) are associated with ED. Low testosterone levels may also play a role in erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction is common in men with multiple sclerosis, often as a result of neurological complications, psychological factors and side effects of some multiple sclerosis medications.
Research has linked ED with metabolic syndrome, a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Metabolic syndrome is associated with an elevated risk of heart disease and stroke.
Parkinson’s disease is linked with several sexual health problems in men, including a reduced level of sexual interest, ejaculation disturbances and erectile dysfunction.
Damage to the penis and surrounding area, whether it’s from prostate/bladder surgery, radiation therapy or injuries, can affect nerve function and blood flow and potentially cause erectile dysfunction.
Some sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, are linked to erectile dysfunction. One study found that 51 percent of men with sleep apnea also had some degree of ED.
Some medications, including blood pressure medications, medications for prostate cancer therapy, antidepressants, prescription sleep aids, ulcer medications and appetite suppressants, can cause or contribute to ED.