Many men deal with erection problems from time to time. But if you experience difficulties getting an erection when you’re ready to have intercourse — or if you have trouble sustaining an erection long enough to achieve fulfilling sex — you may be suffering from the effects of erectile dysfunction (ED).
ED is an exceptionally common sexual health problem that affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States at any given time. Fortunately, it’s also a highly treatable problem once you determine its underlying cause or contributing factors.
At BodyLogicMD of Hartford in Glastonbury, Connecticut, men’s health expert and integrative medicine specialist Anita Petruzzelli, MD, can uncover the cause of your ED problem and provide targeted treatment solutions to help you successfully reverse it.
Read on as she describes the mechanisms behind ED and explains how anxiety can trigger the problem or make it worse.
Understanding erectile dysfunction
ED is the inability to get an erection or sustain an erection that’s firm enough for normal sexual intercourse. You may be experiencing the effects of ED if:
- You get erections sometimes, but not every time you want to have sex
- You can get erections, but they don’t last long enough for satisfactory sex
- You can’t get an erection any time, including when you want to have sex
To understand ED, it’s important to comprehend the psychophysiological mechanisms behind a normal, healthy erection: Successful arousal, intercourse, and completion require the mind and body to work together.
During male arousal, the brain signals nerves to release chemicals that increase blood flow to the penis. Blood flows into spongy erection chambers called the corpus cavernosum. These chambers are made of smooth-muscle erectile tissue that traps blood during an erection, and releases blood following an orgasm.
Essentially, the blood pressure within each chamber is what makes the penis firm, resulting in an erection. When an orgasm occurs, another set of nerve signals causes the erectile tissue in the penis to contract, releasing blood back into the body and causing the erection to relax.
Anything that interferes with any part of this process can cause temporary, short-term ED or lead to a persistent, long-term ED problem.
What causes erectile dysfunction?
Male sexual response is a complex process involving thoughts, emotions, hormones, nerves, blood vessels, and muscles. A physical problem or health condition that affects any part of that process can lead to ED, as can an emotional or mental issue that interferes with normal arousal.
Physical causes of ED
ED can happen when a medical condition limits blood flow to your penis or interferes with nerve signals from the brain; it can also occur when the erection chambers within the penis don’t trap and hold blood normally.
Lifestyle factors that can hamper the physical mechanisms of an erection include:
- Tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- Taking certain medications
- Not getting enough exercise
Chronic health conditions that can give rise to ED include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Low testosterone
It’s important to note that persistent ED often serves as an early initial warning sign of a serious chronic disease, like diabetes. In fact, men with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to develop ED than men who don’t have diabetes.
Emotional causes of ED
ED can also be caused or exacerbated by certain psychological and emotional issues, including:
- Home, work, or relationship stress
- Depression and anxiety disorders
- Sexual performance anxiety
- Worry or fear of sexual failure
- Guilt or shame about sexual activity
- Low self-esteem; body image issues
In some cases, ED is a result of a combination of contributing factors. For example, taking high blood pressure medication may slow your sexual response, triggering anxiety about maintaining an erection. This can generate even greater anxiety over sexual performance that perpetuates or worsens an existing ED problem.
Overcoming erectile dysfunction
Although ED affects men of all ages and backgrounds, it’s most common in older men. Even so, ED is not a normal part of the aging process, and if it’s persistent or progressive, it should be evaluated and treated by an expert.
The good news is that ED is highly treatable once you know what’s causing it. For many men with ED, anxiety is either an underlying cause or a contributing factor.
Here at BodyLogicMD of Hartford, Dr. Petruzzelli takes a holistic, integrative approach to ED treatment that combines targeted lifestyle modifications and medical interventions, as needed. This may include:
- Smoking cessation assistance
- Personalized weight loss plan
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Chronic disease management
- Strategies for stress and anxiety
Other treatment solutions include going to counseling to address emotional issues, changing any medications that may be contributing to the problem, and taking oral ED medications to help you achieve and sustain an erection.
If you’re ready to resolve ED, we can help. Call 860-375-4935 or use the easy online booking feature to schedule a visit with Dr. Petruzzelli today.