It’s Men’s Health Month: Let’s Talk ED

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Sexual function is a vital part of men’s health, and for those suffering from erectile dysfunction, life can be frustrating and difficult. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the condition when a man has difficulty getting or keeping an erection firm enough for sexual activity. It’s a widespread problem that affects more than 50% of men between 40 and 70 years old.

While it’s more common as men get older, age is not the cause of ED. Impaired blood flow to the penis or damage to the nerves that control erections as well as underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and peripheral artery disease can contribute to ED.

Erectile dysfunction at an early age (40s-50s) can be an indicator of cardiovascular disease and warrants additional medical evaluation.

Medications used to treat high blood pressure or emotional conditions such as depression and anxiety can result in ED as well. Additionally, some surgeries, like those used to treat prostate cancer or other pelvic cancers, can damage the nerves that control erections and lead to ED.

If you have an ED evaluation, a healthcare provider can help determine the cause and options for treatment. The assessment will include a detailed history, physical exam, lab tests or possibly more specialized testing.

There are multiple treatment options available. The first steps are usually lifestyle changes, possible medication adjustments and attending closely to other related medical issues.

When first-line treatments are ineffective, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication or suggest using a vacuum erection device. For men who fail medical and non-invasive treatments, penile injections or surgery may be offered. The placement of a penile implant can be a very effective treatment for men who have failed all other treatments. Penile implants are mechanical devices inserted into the penis that create firm erections and have been shown to significantly improve the quality of life of men with severe ED.

Additional therapies that are currently being studied for the treatment of ED include using shock wave therapy like that used to treat kidney stones and injection of stem cells and plasma into the penis. These treatments are still investigational and not approved by the FDA or covered by insurance as of now.

The good news is that men can lower their risk of developing ED by exercising regularly and keeping a healthy weight. Also, close monitoring and good control of chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease can reduce the risk of ED.

If you are experiencing ED and would like to talk to a doctor, call (843) 402-CARE.

By M. Francie James, MD, Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Urology