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Men’s Health - What causes erectile dysfunction?

An erection requires a precise sequence of events to occur. If any of these events are disrupted, the erection will not happen. The sequence includes nerve impulses in the brain, spinal column, and area around the penis and response in muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries in and near the corpora cavernosa.

Damage to nerves, arteries, smooth muscles, and fibrous tissues, often as a result of disease, is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction. Diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, chronic alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, vascular disease, and neurologic disease account for about 70 percent of erectile dysfunction cases.

Between 35 and 50 percent of men with diabetes experience erectile dysfunction.
Lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease and vascular problems also increase the risk of erectile dysfunction, e.g. smoking, being overweight and lack of exercise.

Infrequent sexual arousal/sexual activity can also lead to erectile dysfunction. This tends to happen when men have a period of avoidance of sexual activity owing to personal illness or illness in their partner, in the recovery period following any kind of surgery or during a period when they or their partner are physically or emotionally overwrought.

Also, surgery (especially radical prostate and bladder surgery for cancer) can injure nerves and arteries near the penis. Injury to the penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder, and pelvis can harm nerves, smooth muscles, arteries, and fibrous tissues of the corpora cavernosa.

Also, many common medicines, blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug) can cause erectile dysfunction as a side effect.

Experts believe that psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, low self-esteem, and fear of sexual failure cause 10 to 20 percent of erectile dysfunction cases. Men with a physical cause for erectile dysfunction frequently experience the same sort of psychological reactions (stress, anxiety, guilt, depression). Other possible causes are smoking, which affects blood flow in veins and arteries and hormonal abnormalities, such as not enough testosterone.