Causes of erectile dysfunction

What’s behind the problem?

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Causes of erectile dysfunction

Discover the causes of erectile dysfunction and better understand what’s behind the problem. A lot of men think that this is all just part of getting older, but nothing could be further from the truth. In many cases, you can overcome it. Learn everything you need to know about erectile dysfunction causes in our overview.

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Overview of causes

Many factors can play a role in erectile dysfunction. Some are physical, some psychological. For example, the problem could be down to the side-effects of medication. Or your emotional state might be playing a part.1 But whatever its underlying reason, mental or physical, the good news is that ED is usually treatable.2 Below we list some of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction:

Cardiovascular diseas: Because your penis relies upon blood flowing into it to get hard, weakened or blocked blood vessels can lead to erectile dysfunction.3

High blood pressure: Hypertension can damage blood vessels anywhere in the body, your penis included.3

Diabetes: Too much sugar in your blood can trigger erectile dysfunction by damaging nerves and blood vessels in the penis.3

High cholesterol: Too high a level of cholesterol can narrow blood vessels, including those in the penis, and so weaken your erections.3

Nervous disorders: Conditions like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS) can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction because they disrupt the transmission of nerve signals to the penis and so prevent enough blood flowing in to stiffen it properly.3,4

Injury and operations: Physical injuries or surgical operations can damage nerves and blood vessels feeding the penis.3

Low hormone levels: A lack of testosterone can adversely affect your erections, as can either too high or too low a level of thyroid hormone.3,5

Lifestyle: Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, too much alcohol and recreational drugs can all lead to erection problems.3

Side-effects of medication: Some medicines for high blood pressure or allergies can also affect your erections.3,6

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[1] Lue, TF (2000). Erectile dysfunction. The New England Journal of Medicine, 342(24):1802-13.

[2] Wespes E., Amar E., Hatzichristou D., Hatzimouratidis K., Montorsi F., Pryor J., et al. (2006). EAU Guidelines on erectile dysfunction: an update. European Urology, the official journal of the EAU (49), pp. 806–815.

[3] Ghanem H., Porst H. (2006). Etiology and risk factors of erectile dysfunction. In: Porst H, Buvat J, eds. Standard Practice in Sexual Medicine. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing: pp. 49-58.

[4] Porst H., Sharlip ID. (2006). Anatomy and physiology of erection. In: Porst H, Buvat J, eds. Standard Practice in Sexual Medicine. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing: pp. 31-42.

[5] Buvat J., Shabsigh R., Guay A., Gooren L., Torres L.O., Meuleman E. (2006). Hormones, metabolism, aging, and men's Health. In: Porst H, Buvat J, eds. Standard Practice in Sexual Medicine. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing: pp. 225-286.

[6] Lewis R.W., Mills T.M. (1999). Introduction. In: Carson C, Kirby R, Goldstein I, eds. The Textbook of Erectile Dysfunction. Oxford, United Kingdom: Isis Medical Media Ltd.

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