If you’re male and over 50, you may be wondering if erectile dysfunction (ED) — an inability to maintain an erection that’s sufficient for sexual intercourse — is a natural process that occurs as our bodies age.
While such worries are natural, the good news is that ED and impotence are not related to age; they can afflict anyone at any age post-puberty. Likewise, for older men, ED and/or impotence are not inevitable; age can be a risk factor for these conditions, but there are ways to lower your risk. We’ll take a look at these methods, but first, let’s define exactly what ED is.
The mechanism of sexual arousal for men may appear simple when you first think about it, but actually, the whole process depends on a complex sequence of events running in perfect order inside your body. First, the mind needs to be excited by visual, tactile or other stimulation. This tells the nerves in the penis to relax muscles inside the spongy tissues running down the length of this organ. When these particular muscles relax, blood flows in from nearby arteries, filling open spaces in the tissue. Blood pressure increases, and the penis expands. Membranes surrounding the tissue sustain the penis’ erection. Anything that interrupts this sequence of events can interfere with the body’s ability to have or sustain an erection.
While the frequency of ED in men does increase with age, it’s usually highly treatable and not as inevitable as many men believe it is. According to studies from the National Institutes of Health, only four percent of men who are in their 50s and just 17 percent of men who are aged 60 or older experience a complete inability to have an erection. It’s a fact that many cases of ED have absolutely nothing to do with age. Here are just some of the medical and physical causes of ED:
— Parkinson’s disease
— Multiple sclerosis
— Sleep disorders (like sleep apnea)
— Enlarged prostate
— Low testosterone
— High blood pressure (aka hypertension)
— Heart disease
— High cholesterol
Testosterone affects energy levels and a person’s sex drive, both of which govern impulses of arousal sent to the brain. Diabetes is capable of damaging nerves that send increased blood flow into the genital region — according to studies from the American Diabetes Association, men with Type-2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience low testosterone as men who don’t have diabetes. A doctor can test you for low testosterone and/or diabetic nerve damage. If you have artery blockages or constriction of blood flow due to heart disease, this can hamper erections as well.
Other causes of ED are:
— Prescription medications
— Tobacco use
— Alcohol consumption
Alcohol retards nerve communications inside the brain, which affects physical coordination and arousal signals; you may be familiar with these effects. Tobacco can restrict blood flow as well as contribute to other conditions and diseases that can further impair normal sexual functioning.
Medicines affect individual adults differently. Drugs that may decrease sexual performance in one person might not decrease it in other people. Some drugs that have been known to lead to ED or impotence include:
— Depression medications
— Hormone therapy medications
— High blood pressure medications
— Calcium channel blockers
Emotional and psychological stressors can also inhibit sexual arousal. For example, have you been nervous about a sales presentation at your work? Are you depressed about a relative’s death? Have you been angry or hurt by arguments you’ve been having with your spouse or significant other? All of these situations and others can interfere with feelings of sexual desire. In addition, not having or being able to sustain an erection in itself can trigger anxiety and doubts about a person’s self-esteem and sexual confidence.
Fortunately, there are some proactive steps you can take to control most of the emotional and physical causes of ED listed above. For example, you can:
— Find ways to reduce stress over work
— Improve your relationship with your sexual partner(s)
— Quit smoking
— Lose weight
Sometimes, it just takes a little experimentation to see which strategy can work best for you. If you’re not experiencing success in this regard, talk to your doctor about ED, and confirm that there aren’t physical or medical influences that may be contributing to your condition.
The risk of ED can increase as men get older simply because of the natural decrease in levels of testosterone. But age and testosterone aren’t the only factors in being able to achieve an erection. Typically, ED isn’t related directly to a person’s age, but rather to underlying medical or physical factors that are present. Your doctor can examine you physically and take samples of your blood for testing. There may also be psychosocial factors involved. Sometimes, there are multiple causes of ED conditions. But once the causes are determined, ED is generally treatable, so a patient can lead a healthier, happier life.
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