Is erectile dysfunction a disease that can be cured? It certainly feels like a disease, at least emotionally speaking. Your initial reaction to learning you have erectile problems may be emotionally devastating. And it’s not an overreaction. A man’s ego and sense of self-worth is very much connected to his ability to provide for his partner, sexually, materially and emotionally. Lacking the ability to have sex may affect his relationship satisfaction and increase anxiety. All of this has a snowball effect that can quite literally drive a man to the brink of sanity!
Some men try to recover from the condition by suggesting that they’re okay with their sex life being over—that it’s just a part of aging, and that they’ve accepted it. Love is more important than sex, which is a fleeting feeling.
Well yeah…but why so sad? The truth is that there IS something you can do about ED and it may not require the drastic treatment that you fear.
To begin, understand that ED is not a disease. It is a condition and refers to the specific inability to get and maintain an erection. NHS in the UK states that erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is a common condition and can affect half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70.
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Is Erectile Dysfunction a Disease That’s Physical or Mental?
ED is not a disease because a disease is defined as “an incorrectly functioning organ or a disorder of some part or system of the body.” Erectile dysfunction is simply the inability to have consistent erections and the individual causes vary greatly.
The first step is to see a doctor to rule out serious health issues, including disease—specifically, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious risks. Since erection and ejaculation is primarily controlled by blood flow, one common cause of ED is a narrowing of the blood vessels. This results from diabetes complications, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. To a lesser extent, hormone problems and other traumatic injuries could also lead to ED symptoms.
However, physical dysfunction is not the only cause. Anxiety can rob a man of his sexual excitement as well as normal function. Anxiety can stem from performance anxiety, relationship dissatisfaction, depression or career/life worries. One of the most concerning situations is when a partner can’t seem to get hard with a partner, but seems to get hard by himself when watching porn. This suggestions a breakdown in communication and a discomfort with real intimacy. Overall, psychological ED is stress-related so therapy focuses on eliminating or reducing stress so that erections can result naturally.
The First Solution: Lose Weight!
Since heart disease is the greatest risk, a doctor will either give you a dire warning that you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure and could die, or he will tell you that you might as well get healthy because it certainly won’t hurt. You are more likely to have heart disease and or erectile dysfunction if you are:
- Don’t exercise regularly
- Don’t diet or eat healthy
- Have a sedentary job
If the main problem is narrowing arteries, your doctor may prescribe medication or, if the condition isn’t fully pronounced, he may suggest lifestyle changes. He may advise you to stick to a low carb diet, as well as recommend exercise sessions of 30 minutes a day at least 3-4 times a week. This reduces your risk of developing potentially fatal cardiovascular disease. In addition, you may notice more powerful erections forming.
According to American Heart Association Journals, the biggest risk for a man is atherosclerosis, a condition in which blood vessels cannot dilate properly. This is caused by a build of plaque that comes from an abundance of cholesterol. The worst case scenario is that the blood becomes so blocked from plaque that blood cannot pass through—and this results in a heart attack, which is sometimes fatal.
While coronary arteries concern the heart, even clogged blood vessels throughout the rest of the body can cause major issues. Angina (chest pain) and stroke are other significant risks.
Now obviously you came here to read about dicks—not all this scary talk of heart attacks! But there’s a reason why erectile dysfunction and heart trouble are so closely related. Blood flow allows a man to develop erections and ejaculate with ease. But did you know that heart problems like atherosclerosis actually start showing symptoms in the penis first? The last body parts to feel the pain are the brain, heart and legs. That means by the time you realize you may have a serious heart condition, based on numbness in the arms or extreme chest pain, it can be, unfortunately, a little too late.
The blockage of blood vessels can become so extreme that a coronary artery ruptures which forms a blood clot. Blood flow to the heart is completely blocked and you’re on borrowed time. This is why erectile dysfunction needs to be treated as a warning sign, and at the very least, it should prompt a doctor visit to eliminate the possibility of heart disease.
Remember what causes cholesterol in the first place: too much processed foods, high carb foods, and desserts and obesity from lack of exercise.
Other health issues like poor sleeping may take their toll on your body and mental state. Deep sleep, which is the deepest point of relaxation, actually brings a man the most erections of the night. Don’t you recall waking up in the middle of the night or early in the morning sporting a huge Woody, big enough to make Little Bo Peep shriek? (“You got a friend in me!”)
If a doctor thinks you do have a serious medical issue, he may actually order a test and overnight observation. If you have normal erections throughout the night, this indicates that you’re medically fine. There may be another root cause and it could be psychological.
If, however, it is physical and if you want faster solutions, the doctor may prescribe you Viagra (Sildenafil), which promotes blood flow to the penis, by helping to produce nitric oxide.
There are also supplemental products that can help strengthen erections. While many promises are made on the internet, you may actually be able to count science-backed products on two hands. The Mayo Clinic states that only ginseng, DHEA, L-arginine, Propionyl-L-carnitine seem to safely produce an effect of promoting blood flow, as well as improving prostate health. Yohimbe is often mentioned as an herbal alternative to Viagra but it has comparable side effects, which is a concern.
Other products like Ginkgo and horny goat weed have had promising studies thus far, but not reported success in human trials. Vacuum pumps are another somewhat radical solution, but may help certain men in difficult situations—particularly after prostate surgery.
The main issue is, of course, that many of these options are last resorts, compared to actually getting healthy, losing weight, and eating a diet of fruits, vegetables and beneficial proteins. This is the ideal and drugs are a temporary fix of the symptom.
Over at BetterHealth, we get a better idea of what a doctor might prescribe to you, based on the most apparent and concerning symptoms. If you do have a major heart condition, prescription pills might be the first step. However, there are more invasive treatments if problems persist and you can’t seem to find a natural solution.
There are now injections that can be administered directly into the penis, such as Caverject Impulse. More radical solutions, if absolutely necessary include penile prosthetic implants, vascular surgery, and rarest of all, testosterone replacement therapy.
The method of your doctor is to start with conservative treatment and gradually work your way towards more invasive procedures. It’s also imperative for patients to understand that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, so the fear of an embarrassing procedure should not prevent you from approaching your doctor with the problem. He or she may advise you to get healthy and take prescription medication if there’s fear of a heart attack…
But no one’s forcing you to use a penis pump! So please, don’t hold back from telling your partner and your doctor and getting some helpful suggestions.
Psychological Treatments for ED
Is erectile dysfunction a disease or condition that can be addressed psychology? Since a good 50 percent of all cases are usually because of psychological issues, psychotherapy and counseling may be recommended. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex therapy either. If a man has lost his sexual confidence he may be able to get help from a psychologist, counselor, therapist or psychiatrist, the last of whom has full authority to prescribe prescription pills.
If the problem is diagnosed as psychological then a medical doctor might refer you to a therapist who specializes in sex, in relationship counseling, or perhaps even a psychiatrist who can prescribe something for personality disorders, like depression and anxiety.
Is erectile function a disease of the mind? It can be, colloquially speaking. The first of the three main areas of focus is that of anxiety. Coping with stress is the main issue and ED is the symptom. A therapist might help you re-learn better coping mechanisms so that you can better respond to stress and not let it affect your happiness.
According to WebMD, ED treatment for anxiety might focus on:
- Lowering your expectations of others
- Asking for help from people you trust and who are in a position to help you
- Work on problem solving
- Expressing your feelings more often
- Making time to relax
- Challenging personal beliefs that inhibit your progress
- Eliminating sources of stress, whether it’s situations or encountering certain people
- Working on self esteem
Depression can range from severe and clinical to moderate, bipolar (with hypomania, a softer form of mania), or just seasonal blues. The most drastic action would be a doctor prescribing antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft or Elavil. This is not necessarily as effective a treatment plan as taking Viagra. You can be sure Viagra helps…but certain antidepressants take away sexual desire, so this is why communicating with your physician is important.
For less severe episodes of depression, talk therapy from a counselor or psychologist may help—particularly in working out difficulties with your partner. Couples therapy teaches couples to effectively communicate their feelings. Couples who never talk, or seem afraid to confide in each other, may be in need of a mediator – therapist who can help them to understand the other partner’s perspective.
Sexual therapy may involve somewhat drastic measures in ED treatment; namely behavioral cognitive therapy. Sexual surrogacy is sometimes recommended for single men with sexual dysfunction, since a surrogate can help him show him physically how to maintain erections. However, for couples, obviously the preference is for partners to take the same advice home with them and focus on strategies as a team.
The therapist may recommend using sensate focus techniques. One effective plan is to eliminate the goal of orgasm and ejaculation and to instead try caressing each other for an hour. Work on sensuality and de-emphasize the need to ejaculate. Sexual pleasure can exist outside of penetration and oral sex—there are many other pleasures to explore, and sadly, many couples ignore these nuances in favor of more theatrical approaches. But if ED is a continuing problem, now may be the perfect time to start thinking of sex as “bonding” and “intimacy” and not just fast and hard penetration.
The most important step is coming forward. Too often, men today associate PE with shame. They either want to solve the problem themselves or they want to deny it’s a problem and never tell anyone. It’s even more upsetting if a man aggressively denies a problem with ED while leaving his partner sexually frustrated and emotionally spurned. She wants to help him, she knows something is wrong, but he won’t budge.
The real manly thing to do is to seek help to fix the problem. Talk to your partner first and then see a doctor, at least to eliminate the medical scares. Then you can settle on conservative treatment that leaves you feeling dignified…and that also works!