Demystifying erectile dysfunction in men


By Sharon Kavhu

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a very sensitive subject, which many men find difficult to disclose. The condition makes men feel incomplete or not man enough and, for some individuals, the condition hurts their ego, as such they avoid seeking medical assistance and would rather to suffer in silence.

ED is defined by the medical online dictionary as the inability to get or keep an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. It is sometimes referred to as impotence.

While ED has proven to be a nightmare for many men, health experts have identified several factors that contribute to the condition and provided possible solutions.

Among contributing factors are uncontrolled sugar levels, treatment for diseases such as prostate cancer and mental illness.

Dr Billy Ncube from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, said there are several causes of ED that range from physical to psychological.

“Among the common physical causes, there is the issue of uncontrolled or poorly controlled sugar levels, which also generally affects the nervous system,” said Dr Ncube.

“Diabetes patients, who do not manage their sugar levels through the recommended treatment, can suffer nerve and artery damages, which can result in making an erection difficult. When the nerve and artery is damaged, the patient’s sensitivity is reduced and thereby causing a low sex drive.”

He said the intensity of the damage can determine whether the condition is temporary or becomes permanent.

According to Web Medical Research (2017), an estimated 35 to 75% of men with diabetes will experience some degree of erectile dysfunction during their lifetime.

The research indicates that men with diabetes tend to develop erectile dysfunction 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. “As men with diabetes age, erectile dysfunction becomes even more common.

“Above the age of 50, the likelihood of having difficulty with an erection occurs in approximately 50% to 60% of men with diabetes. Above age 70, there is about a 95% likelihood of having some difficulty with erectile dysfunction,” highlighted part of the research.

The National Institutes of Health Research in Zimbabwe shows that having diabetes doubles the risk of developing ED compared to those without diabetes.

There are also cases where men develop ED following a medical treatment that negatively affects the nervous system and hormonal balance. Among such is prostate cancer treatment, which can either be done by radiotherapy or chemotherapy that both affect the nervous system.

Dr Ncube also indicated tuberculosis and anti-retroviral drugs can also expose males to a higher risk of EDs, as the treatment also affect the nervous system.

The nervous system is very essential for a man during sexual intercourse, as it enables the muscles, fibrous tissues, veins and arteries to respond to the impulses from the brain, spine and penis.

Alcohol and drug abuse can dull the senses, affect concentration, slow one’s reaction time and decrease coordination. Such repercussions have a high risk of affecting the erection time of a male organ during intimacy. 

In a separate interview with a general practitioner based in Harare, Zimbabwe, who preferred anonymity, said kidney diseases can also cause erectile problems.

“Some kidney diseases can result in chemical changes in the body that cause unbalancing of hormones, circulation and nerve function,” said the doctor.

“Such diseases can also lead to low sex drive and significantly decreased sex life. It is estimated that over 50% of men with kidney failure suffer from ED.”

He said vascular diseases account for at least 70% of physically related causes of ED because they restrict blood flow to the heart, brain and the male reproductive organ.

Vascular diseases are defined by the medical online dictionary as the diseases of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) of the circulatory system of the body or any abnormal condition of the blood vessels.

Psychological causes of ED include mental illness, which includes depression and stress. When a man's mind is disrupted it can also affect his sex life. In some cases, he can fail to be stimulated sexually while in other cases he cannot sustain an erection in the sexual intercourse process.

However, the treatment of ED depends on the causes of the condition, as suggested by a Zimbabwean urologist based in South Africa, Dr Alex Mvukwe.

“The majority of ED patients are a result of psychological causes and these can be treated through counselling.  However, some of them require oral medication such as Viagra and Cialis,” said Dr Mvukwe.

“If they are being caused by other infections or diseases such as hypertension or diabetes, they can be treated through treating the disease that would have led to the ED.”

He said drugs such as Viagra and Cialis increases blood flow in a man, which allows an erection in response to sexual stimulation.

While Viagra and Cialis are meant for men with ED, there are some men who are abusing the medication for their abnormal pleasure or some may call it ‘prolonged pleasure’.  In the long run, the drug abuser may end up developing ED, which would be difficult to treat.






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