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Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction

Tuesday 7 July 2020
Erectile Dysfunction

Table of Contents:


I. What is Erectile Dysfunction?

II. What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

a. How does an Erection Occur?

b. Physical Causes of ED

c. Psychological Causes of ED

III. ED Risk Factors

a. Obesity

b. Medication Side Effects 

c. Alcohol

d. Smoking


What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common condition that prevents males from being able to achieve or maintain an erection that is firm enough for sexual intercourse. If erection failure occurs more than 20 percent of the time, then it may require treatment. [1] ED is usually treated with an oral medication such as Viagra, Cialis or Levitra. Erectile dysfunction affects approximately 30 million men in the United States and is more common in older men. [2] Roughly 40 percent of men aged 40 are affected by ED, 50 percent of men aged 50, 60 percent of men aged 60 and 70 percent of men aged 70. [3]

Keep reading to learn about the causes and risk factors of erectile dysfunction.

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

Getting an erection is a complex process involving many parts of the body. A problem with any part of this process can lead to erectile dysfunction.

blood platelets

a. How does an Erection Occur?

In order to achieve an erection, a male must be sexually stimulated either by sexual thoughts or direct stimulation to the penis. When sexual excitement occurs, the brain sends a signal to the muscles in the penis to relax. This allows blood to flow into the penis, filling two chambers and making the penis larger and firmer. Once the penis is firm, the brain sends another signal to close off blood vessels so that the erection is maintained for the duration of sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction occurs when there is a disruption to this process.

b. Physical Causes of ED

Erectile dysfunction is more likely to be caused by a physical problem as men get older. Around 90 percent of ED in men over 50 is a result of a physical condition. [3] Common causes of physical ED include heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Occasionally, erectile dysfunction can be an early warning sign of heart or blood problems. ED diagnosis often includes a heart test for this reason. [4]

Other physical causes of ED can include kidney disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or injuries to the pelvis, spinal cord, prostate or bladder. Additionally, erectile dysfunction can be caused by physical conditions that directly affect the penis such as Peyronie’s disease. [5]

c. Psychological Causes of ED

In younger males, erectile dysfunction is more likely to be the result of a psychological cause. Around 9 in 10 teenagers and young male adults experience psychological erectile dysfunction. [6] This is a usually short-term problem. Common causes of psychological ED can include stress, depression, and anxiety.

A young male adult sits writing at a desk in a classroom

In younger adults, psychological ED is often caused by anxiety, including sexual performance anxiety. As well as ED, performance anxiety may also cause lowered libido, premature ejaculation, or the inability to orgasm. [7]

It is not only younger males that may be affected by psychological ED. For middle-aged men, stress is the primary cause of erectile dysfunction. This can be the result of personal or professional stress, including financial worries, job problems, or the loss of a loved one. [8] Stress-induced ED can be persistent over weeks or months. Alternatively, it can be a short-term problem that is caused by an upcoming stressful event such as a work presentation or an important exam. [9]

ED Risk Factors

There are several risk factors that can increase the chance of erectile dysfunction. ED patients that are aware of these risk factors can take steps to reduce them, and men that do not have ED may also want to make lifestyle changes to reduce the likelihood of having ED in the future.

a. Obesity

Obesity is the most common risk factor that leads to ED and is significantly more likely to cause erection problems than aging. Around 80 percent of overweight or obese men have erectile problems. [10] Obesity causes physical ailments, including heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and it is these conditions that cause and worsen ED.

Weight and erection problems are directly linked and as BMI (body mass index) increases, so does the risk of ED. This is typically reversible and losing weight, usually improves the quality of erections. Your doctor or dietician can help you to plan a weight loss treatment program, including diet and exercise.

b. Medication Side Effects

Some medications can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. All medications have potential side effects. If erectile dysfunction begins or worsens after changing medications, then talk to a doctor about this side effect. Erectile dysfunction is a common side effect of some blood pressure medications, prostate medications, and antidepressants.

Two pints of beer on a bar

c. Alcohol

It is well known that alcohol can cause or worsen erectile problems. Frequent or excessive drinking damages the nervous system and can decrease blood volume. Research shows that men who are dependant on alcohol suffer from sexual problems more than 60 percent of the time. [11]

d. Smoking

Smoking is another major cause of erectile dysfunction, particularly in men under 40. Tobacco restricts blood flow around the body, which can have a major impact on erections. Smoking can also cause serious physical conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure, which can also cause or worsen ED. Quitting smoking can improve erectile problems. [12]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.