Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Male sexual arousal is a complex process involving the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. If something affects any of these systems — or the delicate balance among them — erectile dysfunction can result.
Anatomy of an erection
The penis contains two cylindrical, sponge-like structures (corpus cavernous) that run along its length, parallel to the tube that carries semen and urine (urethra).
When a man becomes sexually aroused, nerve impulses cause the blood flow to the cylinders to increase several times the normal amount. This sudden influx of blood expands the sponge-like structures and produces an erection by straightening and stiffening the penis.
Continued sexual arousal maintains the higher rate of blood flow into the penis and limits the blood flow out of the penis, keeping the penis firm. After ejaculation or when the sexual excitement passes, the excess blood drains out of the spongy tissue, and the penis returns to its nonerect size and shape.
Physical causes of erectile dysfunction
At one time, doctors thought erectile dysfunction was primarily caused by psychological issues. But this isn’t true. While thoughts and emotions always play a role in getting an erection, erectile dysfunction is usually caused by something physical, such as a chronic health problem or the side effects of a medication. Sometimes a combination of things causes erectile dysfunction.
Common causes of erectile dysfunction include:
Clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
High blood pressure
Other causes of erectile dysfunction include:
Certain prescription medications
Alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse
Treatments for prostate cancer
Hormonal disorders such as low testosterone (hypogonadism)
Surgeries or injuries that affect the pelvic area or spinal cord
In some cases, erectile dysfunction is one of the first signs of an underlying medical problem.
Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction
The brain plays a key role in triggering the series of physical events that cause an erection, beginning with feelings of sexual excitement. A number of things can interfere with sexual feelings and lead to — or worsen — erectile dysfunction. These can include:
Poor communication or conflict with your partner
The physical and psychological causes of erectile dysfunction interact. For instance, a minor physical problem that slows sexual response may cause anxiety about maintaining an erection. The resulting anxiety can worsen erectile dysfunction.