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Erectile dysfunction: What you need to know

Phil Day: Superintendent Pharmacist | minute read
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What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is a common condition that makes it difficult to get or keep an erection. It’s believed that at least 1 in 10 men experience it at some point in their lives. While it can be reassuring to know that you’re not alone, the consequences of ED can have a significant impact on different parts of our lives. Relationships can suffer, and mental health can decline due to untreated erectile dysfunction.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction can have a range of causes and contributing factors.

Psychological causes:

Life pressures can lead to stress, anxiety, and tiredness which can contribute to difficulties getting or keeping an erection. Depression is also a major factor in erectile dysfunction, with UK charity Men’s Health Forum citing that ‘up to 90% of men affected by depression also have full or moderate ED”. Other psychological causes include strained intimate relationships or emotional upset from life events such as bereavement.

Physical causes:

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to nerve damage and reduce testosterone levels. Smoking also increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction as it can restrict blood flow and damage the arteries connecting to the penis. In some instances, erectile dysfunction may be a sign of an underlying health condition and should be explored with your clinician if your symptoms persist after treatment.

Symptoms of erectile dysfunction

As well as having trouble getting and keeping an erection, you may find that you have a lower sex drive too. Anxiety around sexual performance can lead to a loss of interest in sexual activity. It’s important to note that most men can experience occasional issues with getting or keeping an erection and this is normal. Erectile dysfunction is when you experience this repeatedly, over a period of time.

What treatments are available for erectile dysfunction?

Oral medication is most typically used to treat erectile dysfunction. These medicines increase blood flow to the penis and are known as PDE-5 inhibitors.

Sildenafil (available under the brand name Viagra) is a tablet available without a prescription and can be purchased online or from your local pharmacy. If you choose to buy online, choose a UK pharmacy that’s GPhC registered and regulated. This helps to ensure the medicines you buy are genuine.

Other oral medicines prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction include:

  • tadalafil (sold under the brand name Cialis)

  • vardenafil (sold under the brand name Levitra)

  • avanafil (sold under the brand name Spedra)

If the causes of your erectile dysfunction are mainly psychological, counselling or therapy could help. This type of counselling isn’t available on the NHS and would need to be funded by you.

How can I improve my erectile dysfunction?

In addition to any prescription treatments or over-the-counter products you have, there are steps you can take each day to help improve your condition.

Regular exercise supports your overall health and can lower the risk of physical conditions linked to ED like high blood pressure and obesity. Start with an achievable goal like a 20 minute walk each day.

A healthy, sustainable diet can also help reduce the risk of health complications like high cholesterol that have been associated with ED.

Smoking is another factor linked to erectile dysfunction, along with other serious health conditions. We understand quitting can be a challenge. You’ll find a range of trusted products to help you quit in our online shop.

For many of us, stress is a part of everyday life. Prolonged stress, however, can contribute to the causes of erectile dysfunction. A balanced lifestyle with quality sleep, regular exercise and enough downtime can help manage the pressures of day-to-day living. The NHS has a great resource called the 5 Ways to Wellbeing which offers practical guidance for staying well.