High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common medical condition which is said to affect roughly 12.5 million people in the UK. It is a form of cardiovascular disease.
Of the people suffering with high blood pressure in the UK, a majority are said to be men. It also becomes more likely with age, though it can affect anyone.
Men who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure can also experience erectile dysfunction, a symptom of the condition. It is one of the biggest contributing physical causes of erectile dysfunction.
On this page, we’ll talk a little bit more about what high blood pressure is and how medically it is linked with ED and measures which can be taken to limit the chances of developing HBP in the first place.
If you already have HBP, we’ll also discuss steps you can take to limit the chances of developing any erection problems.
How does high blood pressure affect my body and erections?
Blood pressure can sound complicated, but it is merely a measurement of the force at which your heart is able to pump blood around your body.
Specifically, blood pressure measures millimeters of mercury (mmHg). It’s recorded with two figures:
- Systolic pressure - the pressure when the heart pushes out.
- Diastolic pressure - the pressure in between beats when your heart is at rest.
Blood pressure can be sorted into three groups - normal blood pressure, low blood pressure and high blood pressure.
- Normal blood pressure - (between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg)
- Low blood pressure - (90/60mmHg or lower)
- High blood pressure - (140/90mmHg or higher)
Undiagnosed or untreated high blood pressure can vastly increase the risk of developing certain harmful health conditions, including heart failure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney disease.
High blood pressure is often the consequence of poor lifestyle choices such as consuming too much alcohol, smoking or not exercising enough.
It is often a condition which does not have any obvious or noticeable symptoms. There are thought to be a great many people living in the UK whose high blood pressure has yet to be diagnosed. The only way to know is to have regular blood pressure checks, which is recommended if you’re over 40. Your GP can do this for you, and certain pharmacies can too.
How are HBP and ED linked?
It’s likely that getting an erection isn’t something we think too greatly about, particularly the bodily processes that cause them to occur. However, it’s important to have at least some understanding of how erections happen in order to understand why high blood pressure can impact them.
The inner penis is divided into two chambers of soft tissue. Their technical name is corpora cavernosa. A much smaller tube, the urethra, is located in the middle of the two corpora cavernosa. It carries urine and sperm to the head of the penis.
The corpora cavernosa are composed of small blood vessels, veins, tissue and empty space. When aroused, the brain sends signals to the vessels in the corpora cavernosa which encourages them to dilate and open. Blood then flows through them and fills the empty spaces within, causing an erection.
High blood pressure prevents the arteries in the penis from dilating, despite both arousal and chemical messages from the brain.
Furthermore, some medication prescribed for hypertension can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. This has been known to include diuretics and beta-blockers. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor, who may be able to offer recommended alternatives.
Lastly, if people do not amend the lifestyle choices that led to their higher blood pressure, like smoking and drinking (alcohol is a diuretic), then this can also contribute to their ED symptoms.
What can I do if I have HBP?
High blood pressure is often the result of poor lifestyle choices. If people want to limit their chances of developing high blood pressure, the simple advice is to live as healthy a life as possible. Not only will this limit the chances of developing blood pressure complications, but will drastically reduce the likelihood of developing many other conditions also (ED included).
Erectile dysfunction caused by high blood pressure is something which can be treated. While it will depend on the severity of your blood pressure condition and any medications you’ve currently been prescribed.
Treatments for ED include:
PDE5i stands for phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, which can sound initially like quite a complicated medical term. However, the main thing PDE5is do is encourage the blood vessels to dilate.
If your blood vessels are constricted, which can result from high blood pressure, PDE5is may help address this problem.
Vacuum constriction pumps are small, pressurised chambers which fit over the penis. Air is then removed from inside the chamber (which can be done manually or automatically), which creates a vacuum.
The vacuum can encourage blood flow into the penis and erections, where arousal is present. After which, a small band, or ring, is placed at the base of the penis which prevents flood from flowing out of the penis. This can induce a longer-lasting state of rigidity.
PDE5is can only work when feelings of arousal are present. So they won’t be effective in cases where someone isn’t sexually stimulated.
One of the most characteristic symptoms of conditions like anxiety and depression is a loss of pleasure that would usually be derived from enjoyable activities, like sex.
Psychological conditions can be a sole cause of ED, it doesn’t all stem from physical inhibitions. So it’s important to be aware of this, and discuss it with your doctor if you feel it could be a cause. Your doctor might refer you to a talking therapist.
This is typically only an option if sought privately, but may still be of benefit where many other options have failed.
Surgeons can perform a small operation where blockages in the arteries are cleared, or vessels are rerouted into the penis as to bypass those which no longer work effectively.
Vascular surgery has produced mixed results, and it’s effectiveness may decrease over time. It is, however, thought to be of benefit mainly for those who have undergone pelvic or trauma or injury.
Some private urologists can offer surgical prosthesis to men who have not seen any improvements in their ED symptoms, and there are several types available. It is something which is generally only considered when other forms of treatment haven’t worked.