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The hidden health risks of erectile dysfunction

Many men experience erectile dysfunction (ED) in their lifetime and half of men over the age of 40 are affected. The Cleveland Clinic reports that "1 in 10 adult males live with ED on a long-term basis.”

What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is defined as the persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. ED can have a variety of causes.

Difficulty sustaining erections periodically does not necessarily mean a man has ED. But if it becomes an ongoing problem, it causes excessive stress and affects his confidence level, relationships, and sex life.

The Massachusetts Male Aging Study reported ED to be “increasingly prevalent with age” and found aging to be the single greatest risk factor. The vascular structures in the penis are vulnerable to disease in the same way that blood vessels in the heart are. So, as a man’s risk for vascular diseases—such as heart attack and stroke—increase with age, his risk of ED also rises.

It’s not uncommon for younger men to also report having ED. However, did you know ED can be tied to potentially serious health risks?

Understanding erectile dysfunction

Sustaining an erection is a complex process involving a combination of neurological and vascular systems working together including the brain, hormones, and nerves. 

Blood vessels and arteries supply the penis with blood during an erection and can be affected first by diseases such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries caused by plaques), diabetes, and hypertension. 

Men hesitate to talk to their doctors or partner about ED due to shame, embarrassment, or anxiety and wait it out hoping it resolves on its own. Relationship trouble may also ensue if his partner feels responsible and intimacy begins to suffer. 

If your sex life has taken a nosedive it may be time to seek medical attention.  

A doctor’s evaluation is similar to how a mechanic runs a diagnostic on your car : by ruling out the most obvious origins first before moving on to potentially more serious causes. If your ED is unrelated to situational (short-term) or emotional stress, your doctor will continue to diagnose your ED seeking the root cause. 

You may be screened for diabetes, prostate cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and cholesterol levels as well as lifestyle risks that can be modified to minimize your risks of ED and other serious illness. 

Lifestyle risks

Smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol use, long-term opioid and certain recreational drug use (e.g., amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana) have all been tied to ED.

High levels of stress, relationship problems, depression, anxiety, and other mental health diagnoses also contribute to ED.

Do you snore, wake up gasping for breath, or suffer from excessive daytime drowsiness? Many seemingly unrelated conditions can be a precursor to ED, such as sleep apnea. These are all signs of sleep apnea and carry elevated risks for heart attack and stroke if left untreated. 

Neurological disorders, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, and trauma from accidents or sports-related injuries are another cause of ED. Concussions have been linked to ED in NFL players. 

Low testosterone levels affect a man’s energy, libido, and mood—and can be a contributing factor, coexisting with ED but not solely responsible. Erectile dysfunction is an indicator of a man’s overall well-being, and is often a surprising symptom of an underlying condition.

Vascular health is usually the first to be compromised when ED is caused by a more serious disease.

Vascular health 

Cholesterol levels and blood pressure numbers are crucial diagnostic data. Men with diabetes are three times more likely to suffer from ED according to the CDC.

Chronically elevated blood pressure diminishes healthy blood flow to the penis. High blood pressure and ED often are closely connected and some medicines used to treat cardiovascular conditions, unfortunately, cause ED. 


A variety of different medications from over-the-counter antihistamines (i.e., Benadryl) to prescription meds used to treat depression, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol can cause ED as an unwelcome side effect. Some acid reflux medications are also responsible for drug-induced ED.

It can be an ongoing challenge for men and their doctors to find effective meds to treat cardiovascular diseases while still addressing ED. Diuretics and beta-blockers are the most problematic. 

Prostate problems 

Many men don’t give their prostate a second thought until it creates problems — even though it's one of the most important male organs for sexual health.

The prostate is located in close proximity to nerves and blood vessels that nourish the penis. Enlarged prostate and prostate cancer are the most widely reported prostate concerns for men. The signature symptoms of prostate problems are typically urinary issues: difficulty urinating, sudden urges to urinate, or a weakness in the stream of urine.

ED can present as a symptom of prostate cancer, but it will usually be a late-stage warning. However, some of the treatments for enlarged prostate and prostate cancer (especially surgery) can result in ED by damaging delicate tissue and blood vessels surrounding the prostate. 

Treating erectile dysfunction

Men have been successful in reversing ED with lifestyle changes, exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking, and learning stress management.

In more severe cases, treatments can include medications, penile injections, and implants. However, for occasional ED—and to help you relax in these extra stressful times — try one of our premium products specifically formulated to work fast and improve blood flow to your penis with a low rate of side effects.

You deserve a satisfying and fulfilling sex life. If you experience ED, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Remember, ED is very common and nothing to be ashamed of.

Monica Romano
Combining a background in nursing and culinary arts, Monica enjoys teaching others about the powerful healing properties found in foods, herbs, and natural remedies. She also advocates for empowering patients to partner with their doctors to identify and treat illness at the root. Monica is a freelance journalist reporting on men’s and women’s sexual health and a variety of other health and wellness topics.