First encounters with ED can be a little frightening.

It’s easy to leap to judgments as to why there might be a problem, and the snap reaction of many men is to assume that there may be something amiss in the relationship.

But sometimes, particularly in the case of older men, sexual dysfunction can be the result of a physical condition; and for some, it may even be an indicator of an illness hitherto undiagnosed.

The process of an erection is an intricate one.

It involves the transmission of nerve signals from the brain down the spinal cord to the penis, and the smooth and uninhibited flow of blood to the tissue in the penis, more particularly the corpus cavernosum.

If either becomes interrupted, so potentially can a man’s ability to achieve an erection strong enough for sex; whether they’re sexually aroused or not.

So before you think about buying treatment, have a think about the wider health possibilities first.

Here we will discuss eight factors to consider speaking to a doctor about if you are experiencing persistent ED symptoms:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. High cholesterol
  3. Diabetes
  4. Benign prostatic hyperplasia
  5. Neurogenic disorders
  6. Hormonal imbalance
  7. Kidney disease
  8. Injury 

First up:

1. High Blood Pressure

One of the most common vascular conditions and particularly prevalent in those over the age of 65, high blood pressure can come about as a result of a high salt diet, being overweight or obese, drinking too much alcohol or smoking.

It causes the heart to beat with more force than is usual, and increases the resistant effect of the arteries.

This means that blood routes in the body become more restricted, leading to circulatory problems. Subsequently, blood flow to the penis may become reduced, and loss of erectile potency may result.

Results from a number of studies have highlighted this link. An investigation undertaken by Qatari scientists in 2007 evaluated the erectile health of 296 men who lived with hypertension, and 298 men who did not. Of those with the condition, just under two thirds (66%) said they had experienced ED symptoms; while less than a quarter (24%) of those without high blood pressure surveyed reported problems.

2. High Cholesterol

Another condition which can restrict blood flow is high cholesterol.

This can lead to the presence of fat in the arteries, which again can slow down the movement of blood around the body, and potentially to the penis.

Like high blood pressure, it can be caused by poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, high alcohol consumption and smoking.

3. Diabetes

Of the three million UK people thought to be living with diabetes, nine tenths of these are thought to be type-2 cases.

This is a condition where the body does not produce enough insulin sufficient to deal with blood sugar levels.

It can also inflict damage on the blood vessels; including those which oversee the passage of blood to the penis.

Nerve damage is also an effect of diabetes, and this can inhibit the transmission of pleasure signals through the body.

Consequently, a large number of men (roughly half according to one study) with the condition will develop erectile dysfunction to some degree. WebMD also states that those with diabetes are more likely to experience ED at an earlier age; as much as 15 years before they would if they didn’t have diabetes.

4. Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

While BPH isn’t exactly thought to cause erectile dysfunction, the two conditions can often be present at the same time.

Doctors aren’t yet fully sure why, but some suggest that the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, such as needing to go to the toilet and resultant sleeplessness, can indirectly lead to a loss of libido, and reduced erectile potency.

Recently, doctors have found that a daily course of tadalafil, the active ingredient in Cialis, can be an effective medication for benign prostatic hyperplasia in those cases where ED is also present. This led to the Federal Drugs Administration in the US to approve it as a treatment for the condition.

5. Neurogenic disorders

Impotence is a less-considered consequence of those conditions which affect the brain, spinal cord and nervous system.

But it is a significant one.

One recent study into the subject found over half of those men interviewed with multiple sclerosis (52.9%) had erectile dysfunction. Another into sexual dysfunction with Parkinson’s disease found that over two thirds (68.4%) of subjects surveyed with the illness had similar symptoms.

Loss of erectile performance has also been found to be reduced in studies conducted with stroke victims.

The reason why these conditions cause such problems is thought to stem from their inhibiting capacities on the nerve pathways between the penis and the brain, and their capacity to communicate signals through the body. Resultantly, feelings of arousal may be harder to achieve, making erections more difficult.

6. Hormonal Imbalance

Sometimes erectile dysfunction can come about due to a disturbance in the body’s hormone levels; but it is only in rare cases that this is the sole cause.

Investigations have found little to suggest that low testosterone is directly linked to ED.

However, lower levels of testosterone can cause a decline in libido.

Reduced testosterone levels are thought to work in tandem with blood flow problems in causing erectile dysfunction. But the use of hormone replacement therapy in alleviating ED hasn’t been fully explored, and most doctors will advise taking measures to improve blood flow before considering this solution.

7. Kidney Disease

Owing to its ability to interrupt blood flow and cause nerve damage, kidney disease is another reason why erectile dysfunction may develop.

It may also be the case that ED symptoms are a side effect of medication required for this type of illness.

8. Injury

Trauma and injury sustained in the lower abdominal, genital or perineal region might be another reason why erection problems are present.

This might be result in nerve or blood vessel damage, ultimately interfering with the bodily processes necessary for an erection to occur.

In any case, if you are experiencing ED and think it may be being caused by one or more of the above, you should approach your GP. They will be able to suggest an appropriate course of treatment for the condition, which may in turn help to relieve erectile dysfunction symptoms.

Page last reviewed:  24/07/2018