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Erectile Dysfunction

Symptoms and treatment

Erectile dysfunction (or impotence) is what happens when a man is unable to achieve and maintain an erection long enough to have sex. Although erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, this problem can occur at any age.

Formerly called impotence, erectile dysfunction was once a taboo subject. It was considered a psychological issue or a natural consequence of growing older. These attitudes have changed in recent years. It's now known that erectile dysfunction is more often caused by physical problems than by psychological ones.

Erectile Dysfunction Causes

Sexual arousal in humans is a sensitive and intricate process involving hormones, state of mind, emotions, muscles and blood vessels. If one factor in this list is not in harmony, it can throw sexual functioning into imbalance. Some of the common causes of erectile dysfunction are stress, fatigue, alcohol or drugs. Having trouble maintaining an erection from time to time isn't necessarily a cause for concern, but if it's more than a temporary problem, see your doctor.

What can you do to decrease the likelihood of occurrences?

  • Go for regular medical checkups, especially for diabetes and blood pressure.
  • Work with your doctor to manage the above conditions that can lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Limit or avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
  • Exercise regularly to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Get enough sleep.

Erectile Dysfunction Treatments

Oral medications available to treat erectile dysfunction include Sildenafil, Vardenafil and Tadalafil. Chemically known as phosphodiesterase inhibitors, these drugs relax the muscles in the penis, increase the amount of blood flow and allow a natural sequence of arousal to occur. The drugs vary in dosage, duration of effectiveness and possible side effects.

Other short-term treatments include:

  • Penis pumps, which use a vacuum / suction method to pump blood into the penis to create an erection.
  • Alprostadil, a drug which is a synthetic version of the hormone prostaglandin E. The hormone helps relax muscle tissue in the penis, which enhances the blood flow needed for an erection. Alprostadil can be administered in two ways:
  1. Using a fine needle to inject the drug into the base or side of the penis. This generally produces an erection in 5 to 20 minutes that lasts about an hour.
  2. Using a disposable applicator to insert a tiny Alprostadil suppository, about half the size of a grain of rice, into the tip of your penis.

Long-term treatments include:

  • Testosterone replacement therapy for those deficient in the hormone
  • Vascular surgery
  • Penile implants
  • Psychological counseling and sex therapy
  • Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, oral supplements made from ginkgo biloba, L-arginine or DHEA

Whether the cause is physical, psychological or a combination of both, erectile dysfunction can become a source of mental and emotional stress for a man and his partner. Treatment is often more successful if couples work together.

By Gita Rajan

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