Erectile dysfunction as a warning sign

Erectile dysfunction  is not a terminal illness but it can signal other serious health problems.

While you should not ignore erectile dysfunction by no means, this is not a fatal disease. Actually, men do not have to have sex to stay alive (whatever they say to their wives). However, erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence can be a sign of serious health problems.

Normal erectile behavior does not necessarily mean that a man has excellent health but if his penis does not function as it should, it can be a sign that something is going wrong in the body.

When dealing with erectile dysfunction, doctors pay special attention to heart diseases. Dr. Ira Sharlip, a urologist in San Francisco and former president of Sexual Medicine Society of North America says that men with erectile dysfunction have a higher risk of developing any form of cardiovascular disease.

Erection is all about the blood flow to the penis. During penile erection, penile vessels are filled with blood. Many diseases that affect blood vessels can prevent blood flow to the penis. Atherosclerosis  (disease of firm arteries) and high blood pressure (hypertension) can have a negative effect on the blood flow to the penis and on men’s ability to maintain an erection.

It does not mean that every man with a heart disease is an impotent or vice versa. “Anyway, the combination of these two conditions is not simple”, says Dr. Ira Nash, a member of American Heart Association and associated medical professor at Medical school Mount Sinai in New-York.

According to Dr. Nash, “there are some cardiovascular medical drugs that theoretically can cause impotence”. Certain drugs to treat high blood pressure can also be a cause of erectile dysfunction alongside some antidepressants.

Taking into account all these facts, erectile dysfunction doctors should always be aware that a reason for this condition can be a heart disease. Dr. Sharlip underlines that she always refers her patients to other specialists first to evaluate health of a patient’s heart.

Lower level of testosterone

In addition to good blood flow to the penis, a sexual hormone testosterone also plays an important role in erectile dysfunction and in male sex drive.

“Many of us think that the first test to have for erectile dysfunction is a testosterone level test”, says Glen Cunningham, DM, member of Endocrine Society and professor in Baylor College of medicine in Houston.

Many factors can cause a low level of testosterone in blood such as pituitary dysfunction that regulates sexual hormones production, thyroid dysfunction, problems with liver and testicles. If you can not get and maintain a strong erection, something in your body may prevent testosterone production.

In many cases, decreased production of testosterone is age-related.  “Testosterone deficit syndrome most often occurs in elderly men”, explains Cunningham but the doctors do not know the exact reason of this phenomenon. “Many theories have been put forward but non gives a clear explanation”.

If a low level of testosterone is the only reason of erectile dysfunction, specialists may recommend testosterone replacement therapy.

Lost signals

As the case with other body functions, erection depends on the signals going from the brain. These signals give a command to start and end erection. Sometimes inability to get erection is associated with impaired nerves that send signals from the brain to the penis.

Erectile dysfunction can also be a signal of diabetes or the result of mismanaged diabetes. Patients with diabetes who fail to control blood sugar may develop neuroptahy. Most often nerves of the extremities get damaged but it is also true for nerve endings in the genitals.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, almost half of all patients with diabetes have some nervous disorder. In the group of risk are elderly people, people with obesity and those who suffer high blood pressure.

Diabetes is not the only diseases that has a negative effect on the nervous system. In the USA, there are patients with rare diseases that also affect the nervous system and, consequently, cause erectile dysfunction.

“I know many patients with HIV suffering erectile dysfunction which is associated with nervous disorders”, says Dr. Sharlip. “Virus causes neuropathy but antiviral medical drugs can also lead to nervous conditions”. Multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries are among those diseases of the nervous system that can cause erectile dysfunction but it is not the main symptom of these diseases.

Men who abuse alcohol and drugs depress their nervous system and can face inability to get erection.

In 90% of cases, the causes of erectile dysfunction are physical. However, erectile dysfunction can be associated with psychological problems such as stress or fear of failure. Men who have psychological problems are able to get and maintain erection but not always when they need to.

A classical test to determine whether erectile dysfunction has psychological or physical nature is to monitor spontaneous night time erections. Before going to bed, a man should tie a strip of paper around his flaccid penis. If in the morning the strip of paper is torn, there is a high chance that a man had a night erection and his erectile dysfunction has a psychological nature.

If the problem is psychological then it is necessary to treat depression of fear that underlie the problem.

Lifetime piling up

Erectile dysfunction has become a kin of a detector especially for elderly men as it can signal about more serious hidden health problems.

Men who would not know about the problems under other circumstances learn about diseases when they come to a doctor with complaints about erectile dysfunction.

This is the argument to use in case pharmaceutical companies decide one day to lobby a law allowing free sale of erectile dysfunction drugs. Erectile dysfunction never occurs for no reason at all. While erectile dysfunction drugs are safe for the majority of men, doctors still believe that patients taking such drugs should be under control.

Dr. Sharlip believes that it is not safe to buy Viagra on the Internet and take it without consulting a doctor. “Buying medical drugs on the Internet is the same as buying them without a prescription. The sellers convince you that a virtual doctor will control your condition but actually virtual medical control is not effective”.