It can happen to any man at any age. Erectile dysfunction affects approximately 2.3 million men over the age of 21 in the UK alone. The name of the condition can spark fear in men and a sense of embarrassment.

Erectile dysfunction is a medical issue that has really come out of the shadows in recent years. With the expiry of Pfizer’s patent on Viagra in June 2013, generic versions of sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) became much more accessible and cost effective. This has resulted in the spread of information about ED. Sildenafil now costs a fraction of what it once did, and is available even through an online consultation from regulated online chemists.

ED is a condition that every man should be aware of, even if they are not worried about having it any time soon.

What is erectile dysfunction and what causes it?

Erectile dysfunction the inability to achieve an erection or maintain one for the required amount of time for sexual activity.

An erection occurs when the brain reacts to sexual stimuli or thoughts, by sending signals to nerves in the penis. The arteries in the penis then relax and allow the penis to fill with blood. The veins that transport blood out of the penis contract, causing more blood to stay in the penis than the amount that leaves, producing an erection

Erectile dysfunction occurs when this natural cycle is impeded or interrupted, which can happen in a number of ways.

Physical Causes of ED

Erectile dysfunction can result from a number of underlying health conditions, including diabetes, high cholesterol, previous surgery (such as prostate surgery), hormonal imbalances, obesity or stroke. Many conditions that affect blood circulation or the nervous system can lead to ED.

Erectile dysfunction can also be related to hormonal conditions, such as an over or under-active thyroid or Peyronie’s Disease, which affects the anatomical structure of the penis itself. Certain medications can also result in the inability to achieve an erection.

Having ED can be the warning sign which tips off your GP about a previously undiagnosed health condition. A lack of circulation or the nervous response necessary to achieve an erection can be a telling sign of something more serious.

Emotional and Lifestyle Causes of ED

Depression, periods of high stress, low self-esteem and anxiety can also contribute to ED. Emotional situations like the loss of a loved one or a divorce can have an effect on your libido, which can lead to erectile dysfunction.

The condition can also be the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits. Interestingly, the NHS states that it is now known that erectile dysfunction carries almost the same risk factors as heart disease. This means that people who consume a high fat diet, drink alcohol excessively, use recreational drugs or do not exercise, are at a higher risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction.

Erectile Dysfunction related to Smoking

Smoking and ED deserves its own section altogether, as the chemicals found in cigarette smoke cause damage to blood vessels. The chemicals cause the vessels to constrict and fatty deposits to build up over time, impeding blood flow.

Nicotine itself directly effects the blood vessels that carry blood to the penis. Reduced blood flow makes it difficult to achieve an erection – some smokers who quit see rapid improvement in their ability to get an erection.

How ED Makes you Feel?

Erectile dysfunction can have devastating effects on, not only the man’s self-esteem, but his relationship with his partner.

A man experiencing ED might feel ashamed, embarrassed, nervous, guilty or a whole other range of negative emotions. His partner may feel that she (or he, in a gay relationship) is to blame for the condition, or that the person with ED no longer finds them attractive. It is a painful issue for all involved, and one that hits right at the core of the relationship.

ED is sometimes a difficult condition to describe to a doctor, which means many sufferers are less likely to seek help for erection problems than they would be for another significant health issue.

Should you see your doctor?

It is very important to see a doctor at the first sign of erectile dysfunction. As listed here, there are a range of possible causes for erectile dysfunction. It could be treated by something as simple as changing medication or making a switch to a healthier lifestyle.

Erectile dysfunction could also be related to a significant health issue, and it goes without saying that you would want to diagnose a serious illness as quickly as possible.

Aside from the physical aspects, there is no need to suffer emotionally from ED for longer than necessary. Your doctor may send you for additional physical testing, or to a psychologist, to determine the root cause. You can then begin an appropriate treatment plan.

Available treatments for ED

There are a number of ways to treat erectile dysfunction. Well known drugs like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) are now available at far lower prices than in the past.

Your doctor will begin by treating any underlying conditions that could be causing the difficulty achieving an erection. If advised, you can consider an ED medicine such as Cialis ®, Levitra ®, Viagra ® or other therapies such as vacuum and injection therapies. You may also be advised to undergo counselling.

Medications for erectile dysfunction are considered low toxicity and have relatively few contraindications. Your doctor can make a determination of which is right for you.

You can also consider an online consultation for ED, but only with a reputable online pharmacy regulated by the UK’s Care Quality Commission.

With a better understanding of ED you can take control of your condition, should you ever find yourself experiencing difficulty getting or maintaining an erection. There are now more options than ever for care, treatment and counselling, so don’t hesitate to contact your GP at the first sign.