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Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Physical and Psychological Causes

When a man becomes sexually aroused, the brain sends nerve signals to the penis, which trigger an erection. The blood flow to the penis is increased, causing the tissue to expand and harden.

Erectile dysfunction (or “ED”) is the term used when a man is having difficulties getting or keeping an erection.  There are many different causes, from  psychological factors such as stress or anxiety, to conditions that affect your circulation or nervous system. It may be the case that more than one of these factors is affecting you.

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Recent studies show that almost half of all males aged 40-70 have had difficulty getting an erection at some point.

Although it is more common later in life, 1 in 10 men under the age of 40 have also reported that they have experienced ED.
A worried mans face

More Information

It is important to have a check-up with your GP if you are having problems with your erections, as they may be able to find a cause for ED that they can treat, and may also detect other important health issues.

Your GP should check your blood pressure, cardiovascular health (heart and blood vessels) and perform blood tests for cholesterol levels and blood sugar. If you are over 50, it is important that your GP also examines your prostate. Depending on your general health, the GP may need to do other tests, for example blood tests for hormone levels.

Physical causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, all of which can damage your blood vessels over time
  • Problems with the heart or circulatory system
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hormonal Conditions, for example, overactive or underactive thyroid, Cushing’s syndrome or hypogonadism
  • Neurological conditions like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, a spinal injury or a stroke
  • Anatomical Problems that change the physical structure of your penis, for example Peyronie’s disease
  • Binge drinking
  • Certain prescription medications (please ask your GP if the medication you are taking may be causing ED)
  • Recreational drug use
Worrying about being able to get an erection is actually one of the most common psychological causes of erectile dysfunction.

If you have had any negative sexual experience, it can lead you to feel anxious about sex. Similarly, stress, other types of anxiety and depression can also lead to erectile difficulties.

Relationship problems can also affect your ability to gain an erection. If you are suffering from ED, do not hesitate to speak to your GP or online doctor before your condition gets worse.
Some medicines can also cause ED:

  • Diuretics – Commonly used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure and kidney problems, they are sometimes referred to as a “water tablet” as they cause you to produce more urine
  • Antihypertensives – used to treat high blood pressure, e.g. beta-blockers.
  • Fibrates – prescribed to decrease cholesterol levels.
  • Antipsychotics – used for some mental health conditions, like schizophrenia.
  • Antidepressants – prescribed to tackle depression or sometimes pain
  • Corticosteroids – contain steroids
  • H2-antagonists – used for stomach ulcers
  • Anticonvulsants – prescribed to treat epilepsy
  • Antihistamines – used to manage allergies, like hay fever
  • Anti-androgens – suppress androgens (male sex hormones)
  • Cytotoxics – used in chemotherapy
If you suspect that your erectile dysfunction is caused by the medication that you are taking, speak to your GP as soon as possible. Your GP may be able to suggest an alternative treatment or advise you on how to lessen this side effect.