The risk factors for ED and how to mitigate them
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects over 150 million men across the globe. The causes of ED can be complicated or specific— and the risk factors are often conditions affecting other parts of the body, or the body as a whole.
What causes ED?
The body’s ability to achieve an erection is governed by a network of hormonal, vascular, and neurologic factors. ED can be caused by a disruption to any one or a combination of these systems.
Common causes of ED include:
- High blood pressure
- Peyronie’s disease (scar tissue within the penis)
- Atherosclerosis (clogged blood vessels) and heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Prostate disorder treatments
- Injuries or surgeries to the pelvic region or spine
- Endocrine (hormonal) disorders
- Depression, anxiety, or stress
Who’s at risk?
While ED isn’t merely considered a natural part of aging, the risk does increase with age. Other risk factors include:
- High cholesterol. Cholesterol can cause damage to blood vessel linings in all parts of the body—including the penis and the network of blood vessels that supply it. Blockages caused by high cholesterol levels or plaques that restrict blood flow can prevent erectile tissue from filling with blood.
A healthy diet and lifestyle, including regular exercise, can help control cholesterol levels and the risk of developing ED. In addition, doctors may prescribe medications to lower cholesterol in the blood.
- Alcohol consumption. More than two drinks a day is considered a risk factor for ED. Alcohol can lower testosterone levels and decrease blood flow to the penis. Low testosterone from alcohol or drug abuse can also affect your libido and performance, potentially leading to further psychological ED complications.
- Metabolic syndrome (MetS). MetS is a combination of maladies that can cause ED. The five hallmarks of MetS are: hypertension, elevated fasting glucose levels, elevated triglycerides, central obesity, and reduced high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. MetS causes inflammation and hormonal imbalances that can lead to ED. Treatment for MetS can include lifestyle changes, testosterone replacement, pharmaceuticals, and bariatric surgery—such as gastric bypass.
- Hypertension. 30-50% of hypertensive men also suffer from ED. Hypertension can disrupt erectile tissue function. In addition, some medications prescribed for the condition can cause ED. However, there’s evidence that suggests that once adequate blood pressure control is regained—even for those on medication—ED becomes less likely.
- Smoking. The hardening of the arteries associated with smoking tobacco can reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking also results in oxidative stress—another risk factor for erectile dysfunction. Fortunately, quitting smoking has shown to relieve much of the ED risks associated with the habit.
- Obesity or lack of physical activity. Engaging in an active lifestyle can help with weight management, stress, anxiety, and depression—all of which help with other conditions and decrease the risk of developing ED.
- Low testosterone production (hypogonadism). When the body stops producing sufficient supplies of testosterone, erectile function can suffer. In most cases, testosterone replacement therapy can bring levels of the hormone back to normal.
- Diabetes. 35-90% of diabetic men also experience ED. Hyperglycemia can have a negative impact on several aspects of erectile function. Complications and changes associated with diabetes can compromise macrovascular and microvascular structures, the nervous system, and blood vessel linings.
A healthy diet, exercise, and following a doctor’s orders can help mitigate the risk of ED for diabetics. One study indicated that intensive glycemic control might decrease the chances of ED in diabetic men.
Then, there’s shockwave therapy
One of the most promising new treatments for erectile dysfunction involves a technique originally applied in dissolving kidney stones. High frequency, low intensity sound waves (shockwave therapy) have been shown to help restore erectile function and even improve sexual performance in men who aren’t experiencing ED. Shockwaves work by breaking up plaques in blood vessels and promoting the growth of new ones. The uniqueness of this intervention is that it addresses some of the root causes of ED and poor sexual performance, rather than just treating the symptoms like commonly-prescribed pills.
In the United States, there’s only one systemized protocol for applying shockwaves in treating ED. The GAINSWave® methodology was developed to optimize efficiency, safety, and results. The procedure is non-invasive, painless, and conducted in-office.
For more information, connect with a GAINSWave provider near you.