Persistent difficulty in getting and keeping an erection is not just a symptom of erectile dysfunction. It can also be an early warning sign that more serious Health conditions lie ahead unless you make some big changes in the way you live your life.
It is now widely recognized that erectile dysfunction is most often caused by an insufficient supply of blood to the penis. And if the Blood Flow to your penis is being compromised, it may be only a matter of time before you encounter other circulatory problems with far more dire consequences than ED.
Just as the penis depends on a strong and uninterrupted flow of blood to facilitate the erection process, the heart, brain, and other vital organs of the body depend on a continuous supply of oxygen-rich blood in order to function normally. Anything that impairs robust circulation poses a threat not only to erectile function but to overall health as well.
Atherosclerosis or Endothelial Dysfunction?
Until relatively recently, it was believed that atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty plaque on artery walls — was the primary culprit in the development of ED and other circulation-related health problems. However, according to MayoClinic.com, most experts now believe that ED preceding heart problems is more often attributable to dysfunction of the endothelium (the thin layer of cells lining blood vessels) and the smooth muscle tissue beneath it.
Endothelial dysfunction itself can contribute to atherosclerosis, and together these health conditions can significantly interfere with normal blood flow, leading to ED and other health problems. However, for the layman, it’s of little consequence whether the problem originates as endothelial dysfunction or atherosclerosis. What’s truly important is avoiding some or all of the risk factors that lead to compromised blood flow. For those that can’t be avoided altogether, work with your doctor to minimize their adverse effects on blood flow.
Most Common Risk Factors
According to MayoClinic.com, ED and heart disease, as well as other circulation-related ills, share a number of common risk factors. These factors include:
Diabetes: This disease affects the body’s ability to control glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause significant damage to blood vessels and the nervous system as well. To reduce the chances that diabetes will lead to ED and other health problems, diabetics should closely monitor blood sugar levels and take doctor-recommended steps to control the disease.
Tobacco Use: Cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use increase the risk of endothelial dysfunction and impaired circulation. The best advice for smokers hoping to head off ED or even graver health problems is to kick the habit.
Alcohol Use: There appears to be some evidence that moderate alcohol consumption has a beneficial effect on circulatory health. However, heavy consumption of alcohol on a regular basis not only makes it difficult — if not impossible — to get and keep an erection, it also poses a serious threat to cardiovascular health. If you cannot keep your alcohol consumption to moderate levels, you’re probably better off doing without the hard stuff altogether.
High Blood Pressure: Over time, hypertension damages the endothelium and smooth muscle tissue lining the arteries. Such damage gradually diminishes blood flow through those vessels, all of which spell trouble for both the erectile process and overall health as well. Although controlling high blood pressure with medication can slow this process, thus temporarily improving blood flow, some antihypertensive medications can interfere with erectile function. Be sure to ask your doctor to prescribe one that is less likely to keep you from getting and keeping an erection strong enough for sexual intercourse.
High Levels of Bad Cholesterol: The next time your doctor sends you to the lab for a lipids blood test, pay particular attention to the cholesterol levels in your test results. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is the so-called bad cholesterol and high levels of this can speed the buildup of fatty plaque on the inner linings of blood vessels. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is good cholesterol, and healthy levels of it can help to reduce your levels of LDL. Total cholesterol represents the sum of LDL and HDL. A total cholesterol of 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood is considered healthy. A reading between 201 and 239 milligrams per deciliter is borderline, and anything 240 milligrams per deciliter or more is high. An HDL reading of 60 milligrams per deciliter or higher is considered healthy.
Excess Weight: Men who are overweight or even obese have a far greater risk of developing erectile dysfunction and other health problems related to blood flow. The more excess pounds you’re carrying around, the harder the heart and vascular system must work to get vital blood to all the parts of your body that depend on it to function properly. Over time, that burdensome task can overwhelm the circulatory system, causing it to function at less than optimal levels and leading to blood flow problems.
Aging: Erectile dysfunction and other circulation-related health problems are not an inevitable consequence of the aging process. However, the older you are, the longer you may have been engaged in unhealthy lifestyle practices that can contribute to ED, heart disease, and other such ills. The earlier you begin to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, the less likely you are to experience such problems as you age.
Heed the Warning of ED
As mentioned earlier, erectile dysfunction serves as an early warning system for health problems, such as heart disease or stroke, that may develop unless you take decisive action. The good news, of course, is that the vessels that supply the penis are smaller than those that carry blood to and from the heart and brain. As a consequence, erection problems usually appear well before the development of irreparable damage to the heart, brain, and other vital organs. If you heed this early warning and move quickly to discard unhealthy lifestyle habits and replace them with healthy alternatives, you very likely will be able to avoid more serious health consequences. Or at the very least, you will probably minimize the damage they can cause.
While insufficient blood flow causes the vast majority of erection problems, it is not their only cause. Roughly 20 percent of ED can be traced to psychological issues or hormonal imbalances. Both are serious health issues that should be addressed by a medical professional. Men who are beset by depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues often find it difficult, if not impossible, to get an erection. But there is help for these conditions that eventually may overcome the problems and bring a return to normal erectile function.
Low Testosterone a Factor
Another factor that can make it difficult for a man to get an erection is abnormally low levels of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone. While the hormone plays no direct role in the erection process, testosterone does affect the sex drive. A serious deficiency of testosterone can cause a man to lose his desire for sex. And without a sex drive, the ability to get an erection — or not — becomes a moot issue.
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