The problem of erectile dysfunction is one that older men often face, but it’s not a consequence of aging. Instead, ED is very often indicates an underlying medical problem that needs to be addressed, a top doctor says.
“Although erectile dysfunction occurs more commonly as a man ages, this doesn’t mean that it’s an inevitable part of the aging process. But what it often does mean is that something is medically wrong and should be checked out," says Dr. Blaine Kristo, a board-certified urologist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
An estimated 18 million men in the U.S. are afflicted with chronic ED, which is repeatedly experiencing difficulty in achieving, or sustaining, an erection long enough to have sexual intercourse. About 12 percent of younger men experience ED, but this climbs to 22 percent for men between ages 60 and 69, and 30 percent for those over 70, according to the U.S. Department of Health Services.
Some surveys put the numbers of older men afflicted with ED even higher.
Regardless of age, if a man is experiencing ED regularly, he needs to see his doctor for a complete physical, says Kristo.
“It’s the canary-in-the-coal-mine thing. Coal miners used to take canaries into the mines to see if they lived because, if not, it was early indicator that the oxygen supply was low. It’s the same with ED; if you’re not capable of getting or sustaining an erection, it’s likely an indicator that something is medically wrong,” he says.
According to Kristo, the main culprits in causing ED are diseases that affect the body’s cardiovascular system, which is the network of arteries and veins that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body and return it back to the heart.
“Erections are all about blood flow. An erection occurs when blood flow increases into the penis, making it expand and become firm. Your arteries have to be healthy enough to accommodate this increased blood flow, so the penis becomes firm and stays that way. When this happens, the penis compresses the veins, so the blood says there and doesn’t flow out,” says Kristo. “Cardiovascular disease is also our No. 1 [health risk], so it’s no surprise why ED is most common here,” he adds.
These are the five medical conditions most likely to cause ED:
This is metabolic disorder is the greatest risk factor in ED, causing 35 percent to 75 percent of cases. High blood sugar levels that occur in diabetes narrow blood vessels. Diabetes also causes nerve damage, which impedes a man’s sexual response. In addition, high blood sugar levels inhibits the production of nitric oxide, the vital chemical released in the blood vessels that widens them, enabling strong blood flow.
Research finds that ED due to atherosclerosis, the disease process that causes heart disease, typically occurs some three years before symptoms, such as chest pain, occur. So men with ED should have their hearts checked.
High blood pressure
. Hypertension makes blood flow through the body more forcefully, which damages delicate blood vessels. In addition, most people with high blood pressure also must take medications, including diuretics and beta blockers, that can result in ED.
Excess cholesterol, or fatty lipids, in the blood result in the formation of plaque, which narrows blood flow to the arteries.
Not only does obesity make the conditions cited above more likely, but overweight men also have lower levels of testosterone, the male hormone vital to sexual functioning.
Here are three ways to prevent ED:
- Lose weight. Even a relatively small weight loss – 5 percent to 10 percent of your overall body weight – can significantly improve blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
- Perform aerobic exercise. Walking, jogging, cycling, and other aerobic activities boost the body’s supply of nitric oxide, which helps prevent ED. It also bolsters the cardiovascular system, which improves male sexual functioning long term.
- Quit smoking. Doing so will both improve cardiovascular health long-term as well as assures there will be a burst of nitric oxide when it's needed.
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