Erectile dysfunction or impotence is a sexual health issue that affects many men, particularly as they get older.
Aside from the physical effects of impotence, experiencing persistent erectile dysfunction can also have an emotional and psychological impact on men.
Many couples struggle to find a way to confront the issue, but support and assistance can be key to helping your partner manage the symptoms.
How does an erection happen?
In the normal process of an erection, the penis rapidly fills with blood, causing it to become erect. The process is triggered by sexual arousal, which prompts messages from the man's brain to travel down the nervous system to the penis.
Neurotransmitters are released from the nerves within the penis, which stimulates the release of another chemical called cyclic guanosine monophosphate and causes the penis’ arteries to widen. As a result, this enables the rush of blood that causes the penis to swell up into an erection.
Erectile dysfunction and impotence
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is also occasionally known as impotence, and it happens when the penis is unable to begin or maintain an erection.
This can be due to a variety of factors, as the process of sexual arousal in men involves a mixture of influences and effects on the brain, hormones, nerves, muscles, blood vessels and emotions. Any one of these can affect the process of arousal and erection, although physical causes are most common.
In men over the age of 40, the most common physical cause of ED is reduced blood flow to the penis, which occurs when the arteries transporting blood into the penis become narrower. The natural ageing process, a high blood pressure and cholesterol level and smoking can all contribute to narrowed arteries just as they can affect the arteries in other parts of the body such as the heart.
In other cases, diseases that affect the nerves going to the penis (such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s) can play a role and so can lower levels of the hormone testosterone. The side effects of certain prescription medicines may also lead to ED.
Of course, drug abuse, tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption also take their toll on a man’s ability to sustain an erection, just as they impair the healthy function of other parts of your mind and body.
Those are just some of the most frequent physical problems behind ED, but it’s important to remember that mental health also has an effect on the normal erection process.
When a man is under intense stress or pressure and is dealing with high levels of anxiety, this can all combine into a cocktail of obstacles preventing a healthy erection. Sometimes, it can also stem from problems with the relationship or depression and the reluctance of many men to discuss ED can lead to a cycle of symptoms and heightened anxiety feeding into each other.
For many people, ED is something that is swept under the rug whether through fear, shame or embarrassment. Yet it’s an increasingly common condition that affects as many as one in five men, according to one US study, and a survey of 1,286 Brazilian men found 46.2 per cent has reported experiencing some degree of ED.
It can be difficult for men to accept and deal with, so if your partner is going through the symptoms of impotence you can help by encouraging discussion and offering your support. ED can be an early indicator of other conditions such as a cardiovascular disease, so early detection and treatment can be essential.
Treatment for ED
Fortunately, there are many options for ED treatment. There are several forms of medication that can be taken orally, via injection or even through the urethra. These are designed to relax the muscles in the penis and increase blood flow to the area, helping to support an erection.
In some cases, a penile prosthesis is used to physically support the penis into sustaining an erection. However, there are also several lifestyle changes and at-home remedies you can use to aid in improving blood flow to the penis.
Quitting smoking, getting treatment for alcohol or drug problems, committing to a healthier lifestyle and exercising regularly can all help contribute to a healthy blood flow. If the root cause behind ED is mental health related, taking time out to work on your relationship or resolve the issues that are causing stress can also help.
It’s not an easy conversation to have, but supporting your partner through ED can be an important part of your relationship. With time and the right treatment, your sex life doesn’t have to suffer.
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