Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is one of the most common sexual dysfunctions among men, and affects around half of men ages 40-70. The chances of suffering from impotence increase as you get older. It is characterised by once or repeatedly failing to get an erection. Although it is a very common condition, very few men speak to their doctor about it. Remember that your doctor or GP is trained to deal with this kind of problem and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. It may be caused by either physical problems, like blockages in the blood vessels around the penis, or emotional difficulties such as relationship problems, depression or anxiety. The cause of your impotence will affect how you should be treated for it. You may choose to see a couple’s therapist, or take a medication to work around the issue. You should make lifestyle changes first, such as drinking less, losing weight and giving up smoking before taking medication. Viagra is the best known drug to manage erectile dysfunction, but there are newer and cheaper brands available too. You can buy these online from a doctor such as iMeds.
Erectile dysfunction is a common illness that affects around half of men between the ages of 40 and 70. It gets more likely as you get older, and you should make changes to your lifestyle before seeking medical help. However, it is still worth speaking to your doctor about as it may be a symptom of an underlying condition. There are many types of medication you can take, more than just Viagra. These drugs are called PDE-5 inhibitors, and increase the flow of blood to the penis, which makes it easier for you to get an erection.
What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is a condition where a man fails to get or maintain an election either once or repeatedly. It is also known as impotence. It's a very common condition and affects around half of men aged 40 to 70. It becomes more likely as you get older, and you are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction in your 60s as you are in your 40s, although it can affect men at any age. Erectile dysfunction is most common after consuming too much alcohol and almost all men experience this kind of short-term impotence at some point in their lives. It is usually nothing to worry about or be ashamed of, and you should only be concerned about it if it begins to affect your life and your sexual relationships. It’s important to remember that it’s a very common condition. Occasionally, erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of an underlying condition, but in most cases it won't have any long-term impact on your life.
Although thousands of men suffer from it, very few people speak to their doctor to help fix the problem. Remember that your doctor is trained to deal with this kind of issue, but if you would rather not discuss it with your GP, you can speak to someone at a sexual health clinic. GUM clinics (genitourinary medicine clinics) are designed to deal specifically with any problems to do with your sexual health and will be able to help you manage the problem.
What causes erectile dysfunction?
The reasons you may be suffering from erectile dysfunction can be almost limitless, but they are roughly divided into two groups – psychological and physical problems. It's important to establish the reason you cannot get or maintain an erection as this may impact that have medication therapy you require to find a solution. Although it is unlikely, ED is sometimes a symptom of an underlying condition, so your doctor may conduct certain test to establish if this is the case. It may be a hormonal issues such as hypogonadism, known more simply as low levels of testosterone. This is a problem that can usually be resolved quite easily with a gel applied to the skin to increase your levels of testosterone. Sometimes impotence is a symptom of a condition which affects blood circulation to the penis such as blocked blood vessels (known medically as atherosclerosis). However, in the majority of cases, reversible lifestyle choices are the cause of impotence. These include things such as an unhealthy diet, drinking too much or smoking. In these cases, changing your habits can solve the problem. There’s also a link between cycling for more than three hours a week and suffering from ED.
Illnesses which may cause erectile dysfunction include:
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD), or any illness which relate to the heart or blood vessels
- Blocked blood vessels especially around the penis
- High cholesterol or high blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome which is the collective name for the combination of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol
- Parkinson's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peyronie's disease which affects the shape of the penis due to scar tissue
- Sleep disorders
There are also medications you may be taking which might impact your ability to get an erection, such as:
- Having radiation therapy in the pelvic region
- MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), both of which may be taken to treat depression
- Medications you may take to control high blood pressure
- Some medications taken to manage heart problems
- Opioid painkillers
- Some medications taken to treat cancer
- Some medications taken to treat prostate problems
- Some diuretics, which are medications taken to increase the amount of urine you pass
- Sleeping pills, amphetamines and other medications which act on your central nervous system
- Some medications taken to treat anxiety
- Medications which alter your hormones
- Anabolic steroids
If you're taking one of the above drugs and suffering from erectile dysfunction, you shouldn't stop taking the medication as a way to solve problems. Speak to your doctor and they will see there's an alternative drug you can be on. Stopping taking the drug without your doctor's guidance can be dangerous or even life-threatening.
If you're able to get an erection in certain times of the day, for example in the morning, but can't get one when you are with your sexual partner, it may be because the problem is an emotional or psychological one. Psychological causes of impotence include:
- Suffering from a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression
- Relationship problems
- What is known as "performance anxiety” - this is where you've been previously unable to get an erection, which makes you more scared, worried, or nervous that it will happen again. This makes you more stressed and makes the problem worse
What help can I get to manage erectile dysfunction?
The most appropriate treatment depends on the cause of the problem. You should always begin with altering your lifestyle habits, which may also clear up other health problems you might have. Lifestyle changes you can make include:
- Losing weight - If your BMI is over 30 you will be classed as obese, and should speak to your doctor about getting help to lose weight for the sake of your health. You can find out if you are overweight or obese by putting your age, height and weight into an online BMI calculator.
- Stopping smoking - Smoking can affect the amount of oxygen your red blood cells can carry which may cause impotence. Smoking can be detrimental to your health and the health of your loved ones, and you can speak to your doctor about getting help to give up.
- Taking more exercise - Increasing the amount of exercise you take is very good for your cardiovascular system and general health as it increases the flow of blood around your body. It's also a great way to relieve stress and the endorphins released after exercise can help you to tackle depression naturally. This makes it a great solution if you believe your erectile dysfunction may be caused by psychological or emotional problems.
- Drinking less alcohol - Impotence after drinking too much is a common problem. However on a more long term basis giving up drinking can be especially beneficial too. If you're drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, consider cutting back to reduce the effects it has on your sex life.
- Cycling less - While this may seem incongruous after suggesting an increase in exercise, there is evidence to suggest that cycling for more than three hours a week can cause erectile dysfunction. This is because you sit in a position which can constrict certain blood vessels necessary to maintain an erection.
- Reducing stress - Too much pressure at work or home can hinder your ability to get an erection. Try to cut back on work if possible or have an honest conversation with your partner about your problems as this may ease your impotence.
If you have tried these fixes and none of them seem to work, it could be that you have an emotional or psychological problem and seeing a qualified sex therapist may help you to overcome what is causing difficulties. Sometimes just talking to a professional about the problem and confronting it can be enough to help you come to terms with it. If you think your problems may stem from relationship difficulties, you and your partner may choose to see a couples' therapist to overcome the problem.
There are also a variety of medications available to help you overcome or manage your erectile dysfunction which are well known. For instance, almost everyone has heard of Viagra. Drugs like Viagra are called PDE-5 inhibitors, and work by increasing blood flow to the penis. Viagra is the oldest and best known of these medications, and is also available under its generic name of Sildenafil, which is the active ingredient in the drug. The generic version is exactly the same as the branded one, but is usually available at a fraction of the cost.
There are other pill based solutions available too, such as Cialis (also available as a generic version called Tadalafil). This medication is the longest lasting type, with effects lasting up to 36 hours. Levitra is another variant you can buy (also available as Vardenafil), which is similar to Viagra, but users tend to experience less of the side effects.
Lastly, you can buy Spedra (also available as Avanafil) which is one of the newest types of PDE-5 inhibitors. It is also the fastest acting, and can be effective as soon as 15 minutes after taking the medication.
Any type of PDE–5 inhibitor can be taken with or without food, but if you take it after a heavy or fatty meal it will take longer to have an impact. If you take the medication with alcohol, it will also impair the effect.
Am I able to take a PDE-5 inhibitor?
This type of medication is generally suitable for most men, other conditions in your medical history and other medications you're taking may mean you should steer clear. You should always speak to your doctor before taking any medication like this. You should not take PDE–5 inhibitors if:
- You are a woman
- You're allergic to any of the ingredients
- You're taking nitrate to treat angina, also known as chest pain
- You are taking nitrous oxide donors (poppers)
- You're taking riociguat for high blood pressure in your lungs
- You suffer from a severe heart or liver problem
- You have low blood pressure
- You have recently had a heart attack or stroke
You should read the patient information leaflet fully before taking any of these medications and be aware of any side-effects. Remember it is always better to try and solve the problem, be it physical or emotional, before taking medication to treat erectile dysfunction. Impotence is a very common illness that most men experience at some point during their lives, in your doctor will be trained to listen and understand your problem so you can get the best help possible. The more open and honest you are with your GP, the easier they will be able to help you find the easiest and best solution for you.