What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is the persistent inability for a man to achieve and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual activity. Although previously called impotence, erectile dysfunction is now considered a more appropriate term due to the negative connotations some people attach to the word impotence. Many men will have an occasional erection problem at some time in their lives, but for others it becomes a frequent problem. This condition is widespread, affecting more than 100 million men worldwide.
Erectile dysfunction is not something to be embarrassed about. It doesn't mean that a man is infertile or unable to have an orgasm or ejaculate. Because it is an established fact that erectile ability is not related to orgasm and ejaculation, men with erectile dysfunction no longer have to be burdened by the myth that they are somehow lacking in virility or potency.
Erectile dysfunction is a treatable condition in most men who have it. While it is not a life-threatening condition even when it is severe, it may have a very significant impact on a man's self-image and a couple's relationship.

How do erections occur?
An erection is the result of a complex process involving the body's blood vessels and nervous system. The anatomy of the penis is specifically designed to respond to this process.
The penis is made up of two structures that start inside the pelvis and run parallel to each other until they reach the tip of the penis. These structures consist of spongelike tissue that contains many blood vessels. Usually, the walls of these blood vessels are contracted. This prevents extra blood from flowing into the penis and keeps it soft most of the time.
When a man experiences sexual arousal, the blood vessels in the penis expand. This enables more blood to flow rapidly into the penis. At the same time, veins that usually take blood away from the penis become compressed. This restricts how much blood can flow out of the penis. With more blood flowing in and less flowing out, the penis enlarges, resulting in an erection.

What causes erectile dysfunction?
In men with erectile dysfunction, the chemical reactions responsible for erections do not take place as usual, so the blood vessels don't relax sufficiently and the penis cannot fill with blood.
It was once mistakenly believed that erectile dysfunction was largely a psychological issue or an unavoidable result of getting older. While it's true that age can be a factor, erectile dysfunction is by no means inevitable as a man gets older. Instead, we now know that the majority of cases of erectile dysfunction are associated with physical conditions. The most common risk factors of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Medical conditions that make it difficult for enough blood to flow into the penis, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and hardening of the arteries
  • Nerve trauma from injury or illness that interrupts the connection between the nervous system and the penis, such as spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or surgery for the prostate or colon
  • Psychological conditions, such as anxiety and stress
  • Other medical conditions, such as kidney or liver disease, depression, or hormonal disorders
  • Medications that may bring about erectile dysfunction as an unwanted side effect, including some within the following categories: diuretics (water tablets), high blood pressure medications, cholesterol-lowering drugs, diabetes medications, anti-depressants, some types of drugs used to treat cancer, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and epilepsy medications
  • Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and/or drug use

If you want to know more about the specific causes of erectile dysfunction, talk to your doctor.

Can erectile dysfunction be treated?
Yes. The good news is that regardless of the cause, the majority of cases of erectile dysfunction are treatable. Patients now have a variety of treatment options from which to choose, and should discuss these options with their doctor.

How do I know if I have erectile dysfunction?
If you have consistent erection problems, you probably already know it. Before your condition can be treated, you need to get a diagnosis from your doctor. There is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed when discussing erectile dysfunction with your doctor. Just be open and honest. If he or she has not brought up the subject before, it could be out of respect for your privacy. Your doctor should provide you with understanding, support, and best of all, information.
Your doctor will ask you a few specific questions and give you a routine physical exam. This should help your doctor arrive at a diagnosis. Based on this information, you and your doctor can decide which treatment, if any, is best suited for you.

A man's condition, a couple's concern
Erectile dysfunction doesn't only affect you. It can have a profound effect on your partner. While erectile dysfunction is not usually caused by a problem in a relationship, it can lead to problems when it isn't understood or handled in a sensitive manner.
For example, like many men, you may find that erectile dysfunction can lead you to distance yourself emotionally from your partner. As a result, your partner may get the mistaken impression that you have lost interest or attraction. For this reason, it's important for both of you to remember that the majority of cases of erectile dysfunction are associated with a physical condition. So keeping the lines of communication open can help maintain emotional intimacy. Also, talking things over will help you get your partner's emotional support in order to deal with erectile dysfunction effectively.

How do I discuss erectile dysfunction with my partner?
If possible, sit down with your partner and talk about the ways in which erectile dysfunction may have impacted your relationship. This can be an opportunity to share your feelings and let your partner know that you would like to make things better~not just for yourself, but for both of you. You may find that talking openly about the problem may actually bring you closer together.
Ask your partner for support. Most partners of men with erectile dysfunction are glad to help in the treatment process. Since erectile dysfunction affects both of you, perhaps your partner would like to go with you to your doctor's appointment. That way, you will both get a clear idea of the condition and the treatment options that are available. Then, you can talk them over and together choose the course of action that's best for you and your relationship.


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