Skip to chat with us. Skip to content

See all > Sexual health

A row of pencils, one of which is sagging

September 21, 2019 • read

Share this article

Why erectile dysfunction is even worse than you think

You’re not alone. Almost 50 percent of Canadian men over 40 deal with erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point. Medications to treat it are readily available and easily dispensed, but it’s worth taking a closer look at the causes of ED. That’s because trouble getting an erection can be more than an embarrassing misfire in the bedroom; it can signal that something else, something worse, is going on in the body.

What is erectile dysfunction?

ED is the inability to get or sustain an erection long enough to have sex. Most, if not all, men will experience it at some point in their lives.

For some men, ED can happen as part of the ageing process or because of anxiety or stress. For others, because it seems to come out of nowhere, the cause is unknown and worrying. But ED can signal an as-yet undiagnosed health issue, so getting to the root cause is essential.

Signs and symptoms of erectile dysfunction

  • Difficulty getting or inability to get an erection
  • Inability to keep an erection throughout sexual intercourse
  • Low sexual desire

What causes erectile dysfunction?

There are quite a few causes of erectile dysfunction. They tend to fall into one of three categories: physical health issues, ingested substances, or mental health challenges. They can include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiac or vascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Certain medications
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Stress

Diabetes and ED

Because of its high prevalence, it’s worth talking about what causes erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes. Thinking of diabetes as affecting “just” your blood sugar levels is a common misconception; its impacts are far greater. Somewhere between 35 to 75 percent of men with diabetes experience ED, making it one of the most common side effects of the disease. Damage to nerves and blood vessels due to elevated blood sugar levels is behind the link between these conditions.

Diabetes also increases your risk of developing heart disease, which is a further risk factor for erectile dysfunction. Recent research suggests that ED may actually be one of the earliest signs that a man is suffering from heart health issues. It appears that those dealing with ED had as much as a 43 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than a control group. While most men will experience an incidence of ED from time to time, chronic and severe ED should be quite concerning. And it appears that the earlier in life it becomes an issue, the higher the risk for heart problems later in life. 

Treatment options

Luckily, there are a number of effective erectile dysfunction treatment options available. Oral medications such as Viagra, Cialis, and their generic equivalents are probably the most well known, but these may not be the best options for everyone. Penile injections, implants, and pumps or vacuum devices can offer relief to some men. Changes to medications and curbing alcohol and tobacco use are also crucial, as is addressing any underlying mental and physical causes of ED. For others, therapy, whether alone or with their partner, can often help manage any related relationship issues.

Relationship challenges

ED  is often considered a couple’s disorder. While it’s not uncommon for the man suffering from ED to feel shame and anger, his partner can also be affected, wrestling with feelings of rejection, frustration, and decreased sexual satisfaction. Treatment of ED is often enough to resolve the emotional issues that may stem from it, however, in certain instances couples may also want to explore additional interventions such as therapy (which can also help solve some underlying ED causes).

Addressing ED naturally

While we recommend you speak with a doctor for severe or ongoing erectile dysfunction issues, there are certain things you can do on your own to help lower your risk. Exercising and eating right are crucial to maintaining overall good health, which includes penis health. One study indicated that just 30 minutes a day of walking decreased the risk for ED by a whopping 41 percent. Exercise and a proper diet also help protect against heart disease, which can lead to ED, as does limiting drug and alcohol use and maintaining a healthy weight. Additionally, research has shown that kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor, which can also decrease the prevalence of ED in some men. As an added bonus, kegels also help to reduce the likelihood of urinary incontinence.

Many things can cause erectile dysfunction, and the solution won’t always be a little blue pill. Speak with a doctor to determine your personal triggers, whether you may have an underlying health concern, and the most effective form of treatment for you. While it can be embarrassing to divulge this information, it can save your life. Plus, the sheer number of treatment options available indicates just how common the problem is. 

Ready to see the doctor?

General health
What to Expect When Seeing an Endocrinologist Virtually

Read more
General health
How to get Access to Healthcare when Abroad this Summer

Read more
General health
What Health Appointments Should Men Make as They Age

Read more