Most men will, on occasion, fail to achieve or sustain an erection, and it is a surprisingly common occurrence. In fact, half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 years will experience it to some degree. This means there are several million men in the UK suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) and those numbers generally increase with age. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of sufferers actually receive erectile dysfunction drugs or other therapies.

The occasional failure to establish an erection can often be induced by the stresses of daily life, tiredness, anxiety, or excessive alcohol consumption and it is generally nothing to worry about. In fact, worrying about your erection can increase the likelihood of it happening again due to the fear of failure. When younger men suffer from ED, the likely cause is psychological; if this is definitely the case then erectile dysfunction drugs are a really effective tool in combating the symptoms.

When men in their 40 upwards experience ED, it is vital to investigate the potential of a physical cause. The penis is a barometer of male health and when it stops working effectively the root cause is commonly atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body, and as the arterial size of the penis is very similar in that of the heart, erectile issues can be an early warning sign of a much bigger problem. So the temptation to fix a symptom, namely the erection malfunction, with over the counter erectile dysfunction drugs should be avoided at all costs. It is important to point out though that, most men with ED have a combination of psychological and physical causes, with one affecting the other.

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Physical causes of ED include:

  • Vascular conditions (conditions that disrupt blood flow to the penis) – These include cardiovascular disease (CVD), atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Neurogenic conditions (affecting the nervous system) – These disorders include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, diabetes, and spinal injuries.
  • Hormonal conditions – These ailments include an overactive thyroid gland, an underactive thyroid gland, low testosterone, Cushing’s syndrome (high cortisol level), and head or brain injury recently or in the past.
  • Anatomical conditions (affecting the structure of the penis) – These can include Peyronie’s disease (occurs when fibrous scar tissue develops on the penis and causes curved, painful erections), surgery and radiation therapy for bladder, prostate or rectal cancer, or injury to the penis
  • Side effects of prescribed drugs
  • Recreational drug use
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • ED is also more likely to occur in people who smoke, are overweight and with low activity levels.

Psychological causes of ED may include:

  • Your erection is fine, except with your partner
  • You are suffering stress and anxiety from work or home (money or family)
  • You are depressed
  • Your partner has sexual problems
  • You are dissatisfied with the sex you are having
  • You are worried about your sexual orientation
  • You have suffered previous sexual abuse

Achieving an erection is the result of a complex chain of events. But ultimately, erections are all about blood flow, and erectile dysfunction drugs work by interfering with the chemical process that lets blood leave an erect penis. Erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are part of a family of drugs called PDE-5 inhibitors. If the root cause is due to low testosterone, then testosterone replacement therapy may also be required if you are found to have low levels.

Medication can be a useful way to treat the symptoms of ED. It is best to take the drug around 60 minutes before sexual activity, and its effects can last up to 4 hours. Generally, the medication cannot cause an erection if there is a lack of sexual arousal. It is imperative, if you have been suffering from ED for more than a few weeks, that you see your doctor rather than opting for the over the counter quick fix of erectile dysfunction drugs, because it may be a warning sign of other more serious health problems. If your ED is due to a preexisting health condition then it is important to address that first and make some lifestyle changes and if those initiatives fail to improve things, then tablets are usually the first line treatment.

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The take home message is that yes, erectile dysfunction drugs are a great way to re-establish your erection and to enjoy your sex life once again, but before you treat the symptom you need to find the underlying cause. Therefore, it is essential to visit your GP and discuss the situation, ideally, you should try to visit a men’s health expert such as Dr Jeff who will fervently endeavour to get to the root of the issue and treat you more holistically rather than treat your symptoms alone. You will be monitored closely and will be encouraged to incorporate some lifestyle changes into your daily routine.

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About Dr Jeff Foster

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A Men’s Health specialist and Medical Director and founder of H3 Health.  I’m passionate about raising awareness of all aspects of Men’s Health, and heavily involved in both teaching and health promotion.   I’m a committee member of the British Society of Sexual Medicine, and have been involved in writing the most recent national guidelines for testosterone deficiency in men.

Get in touch with Dr Jeff

If you are a prospective patient and wish to see Dr Jeff privately, then you can book an appointment via H3 Health (03309 120769 – National Rate).  Alternatively if you are a member of the Media, then please use our contact form for media enquiries.