Male sexual arousal is a complex process that involves the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. Erectile dysfunction can result from a problem with any of these. Likewise, stress and mental health problems can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. Sometimes a combination of physical and psychological issues causes erectile dysfunction. For instance, a minor physical problem that slows your sexual response may cause anxiety about maintaining an erection. The resulting anxiety can lead to or worsen erectile dysfunction.
Physical causes of erectile dysfunction
In most cases, erectile dysfunction is caused by something physical. Common causes include:
- Heart disease
- Clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome, a condition involving increased blood pressure, high insulin levels, body fat around the waist and high cholesterol
- Parkinson's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Low testosterone
- Peyronie's disease, development of scar tissue inside the penis
- Certain prescription medications
- Tobacco use
- Alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse
- Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate
- Surgeries or injuries that affect the pelvic area or spinal cord
Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction
The brain plays a key role in triggering the series of physical events that cause an erection, starting with feelings of sexual excitement. A number of things can interfere with sexual feelings and cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. These include:
Feb. 10, 2012
- Depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions
- Relationship problems due to stress, poor communication or other concerns
- Erectile dysfunction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/ED/. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Diaz JR VA, et al. Male sexual dysfunction. Primary Care Clinics Office Practice. 2010;37:473.
- Erectile dysfunction. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary_disorders/male_sexual_dysfunction/erectile_dysfunction.html#v1153706. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- AUA guideline on the management of erectile dysfunction: Diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Linthicum, Md.: American Urological Association. http://www.auanet.org/content/guidelines-and-quality-care/clinical-guidelines.cfm?sub=ed. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Alberson M, et al. Evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction. Medical Clinics of North America. 2011;95:201.
- Martin KA. Treatment of male sexual dysfunction. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Erectile dysfunction. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 5, 2011.
- Aung HH, et al. Alternative therapies for male and female sexual dysfunction. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2004;32:161.
- Hidden risks of erectile dysfunction "treatments" sold online. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048386.htm. Accessed Dec. 5, 2011.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.