The Physical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Learn about the physical health conditions affecting the ability to maintain an erection.

Published: Monday 05 July 2021

Erectile dysfunction is a condition that the majority of men will experience at some point, and typically more so as they age. Younger men in their 20s can experience ED, and common causes tend to include physical condition like obesity, lifestyle factors such as the overconsumption of alcohol, but equally psychological factors such as anxiety or becoming sexually desensitised due to watching too much pornography. In younger men, psychological factors account for approximately half of erectile dysfunction cases, but the same can’t be said for older men. By middle age, cases of erectile dysfunction are overwhelmingly due to having an underlying physical health condition that prevents the ability to maintain an erection irregardless of libido, confidence or stress-levels.

Erectile Dysfunction Physical Causes Infographic

Diabetes

As the most common endocrine disease, diabetes affects the body’s ability to make use of the hormone insulin, and is one of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can lead to damage of the small blood vessels and nerves, impeding the ability to maintain an erection. One of the reasons ED cases increase with age is because you’re more at risk of getting diabetes as you get older.

Obesity

Being obese may increase your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction by up to 90%[1]. Carrying excess body fat can interfere with several hormones and raise your risk of vascular disease and diabetes.

High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure damages the lining of the blood vessels over time, hardening and narrowing the arteries, and thus limiting blood flow. Limiting alcohol intake, stopping smoking, regularly exercising and eating healthily can all help lower your blood pressure.

High cholesterol

Similarly to having high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels increase atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the blood vessels. Cholesterol may build up on the lining of the arteries and restricts sufficient blood flow to achieve and keep an erection. A high cholesterol level is also sometimes referred to as hypercholesterolemia.

Cardiovascular disease

High blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes may lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD), as can inactivity, obesity and smoking. A clogging of the arteries decreases blood flow and erectile dysfunction may occur. ED is often one of the early indicators of CVD.

Neurological disorders

Neurological conditions affect how the brain and nerves communicate with your reproductive system, sometimes leading to erectile dysfunction. Such neurological disorders associated with ED include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and brain tumors. Nerve damage is also one of the complications associated with having chronic diabetes.

Low testosterone levels

Low levels of the male hormones belonging to the androden family, namely testosterone, may contribute to erectile dysfunction. Whilst not fully understood, low testosterone levels have been linked to diabetes, obesity and heart disease, and can often reduce sex drive.

Medication

Certain medications may make erections more difficult to obtain, including beta-blockers, SSRI’s and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. It’s worth discussing the effects of the medication with your doctor, as there may be alternatives that do not affect erectile functioning.

Toby Watson

Authored by Toby Watson

Digital Marketing Executive


Having studied Consumer Behaviour and Marketing at the University of Reading, Toby focuses on developing engaging content for our various marketing channels.

A typical day for Toby involves building out our social media presence with original content and writing articles for our health centre blog.

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