Although men are reluctant to seek help for erection problems, these are much more common in the population than people think – and many cases are eminently treatable. One of the first research studies that drew attention to the prevalence of Erectile Dysfunction – or Impotence as it was called in those days – was the 1994 Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS).
Based on their study sample of 1290 American men, the researchers found that up to 40% of men in their forties admitted to having erection difficulties – and this figure rose to around 70% of men in their seventies. Today, thanks to the marketing of effective drugs like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra by multinational pharmaceutical companies, Erectile Dysfunction (also known as ED) is very much in the news.
More and more men who feel they are suffering from this condition are now consulting their doctors about it. In the 21st century, ED is no longer a symptom that men (and their partners) suffer in silence.
What exactly is meant by Erectile Dysfunction?
The best definition of Erectile Dysfunction is the persistent inability to attain and/or maintain erection adequate to permit satisfactory sexual intercourse. Basically, erection takes place because when a man undergoes sexual stimulation, chemicals are released by the body which cause the arteries supplying blood to the penis to dilate (enlarge) and so increase blood flow to the penis.
This results in the spongy tissues in the penis (called the Corpora Cavernosa) becoming engorged and turgid – and so the penis enlarges and becomes erect. In simple terms, erection is caused by an increase of blood flowing into the penis – so anything that reduces blood flow to the organ will result in inadequate erections.
What causes it?
This is why men with diseases associated with narrowed arteries – such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – are more at risk of suffering from ED. Says Dr Geoffrey Hackett, a specialist in sexual medicine from Birmingham in England, in an article in the British Medical Journal.
“Erectile dysfunction is the manifestation of vascular disease in the smaller arteries and gives a two to three year early warning of myocardial infarction”.
In other words, a man who has ED is already having narrowing of his arteries, and if this is not detected and treated correctly, he is at risk of suffering angina or a heart attack in a couple of years.
What can be done about it?
The important principles of managing the condition are:
- If a man feels he is having Erectile Dysfunction, he should see his doctor and have an examination plus blood tests to check whether this is an early symptom of cardiovascular disease.
- Once narrowing of the blood vessels is excluded (or treatment for vascular disease commenced) then medications to correct the erection difficulty can be prescribed.
Fortunately, ED is easily treated. Most men who suffer ED due to narrowed arteries will benefit from using one of a group of drugs known as Phosphodiesterase-5, or PDE5 inhibitors in short. The best-known being:
- Viagra (Sildenafil) : Available on the market since 1998
- Cialis (Tadalafil) : Available on the market since 2003
- Levitra (Vardenafil) : Available on the market since 2003
In the less common situation where PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective in re-establishing efficacious erections, other techniques such as injections, vacuum pumps, surgical implants or a stem cell therapy may be utilized.
The take home message
Erectile Dysfunction is common, in most instances it’s treatable – and could be an early warning sign of developing coronary heart disease.
Also, living a healthier life, full of exercise and following a healthy diet, has been found to have a huge role in the prevention as well as in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
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