What can help with e­rec­tile dysfunction? Treatment options & tips

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Erectile dysfunction can occur at any age. It is usually triggered by organic rather than psychological factors. Luckily, there are various ways in which the condition can be successfully treated.

Erectile dysfunction doesn't just affect older men

Although erectile dysfunction (i.e. difficulty in getting or keeping an erection) can affect men of all ages, it is particularly common in men over 60. Prof. Daniel Eberli, Director of the Department of Urology at University Hospital Zurich, has this to say: «Over 50% of men in this age group complain of erectile dysfunction.» Problems arise when not enough blood flows into the corpus cavernosum – the erectile tissue of the penis – despite feeling sexually aroused.

Potential causes of erectile dysfunction & impotence

Given the wide range of potential causes, erectile dysfunction should always be taken seriously. For example, it may be a sign of circulation problems or indicate a serious medical condition such as high blood pressure.

Most men who have had a heart attack, for example, report having previously experienced erectile dysfunction.
Prof. Daniel Eberli, Director of the Department of Urology at University Hospital Zurich

Physical causes include:

  • Disorders affecting the metabolism or organs (e.g. diabetes mellitus)
  • Diseases affecting the nerves or brain (such as multiple sclerosis or a stroke)
  • Prostate problems following a prostatectomy or prostatitis
  • Cardiovascular diseases (including arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease)

A testosterone deficiency – e.g. as a result of the male menopause – can also have an impact on erectile dysfunction. In rare cases, psychological causes such as stress may be to blame – especially in young men.

What can be done to help with erectile dysfunction

The therapies for treating erectile dysfunction are as many and varied as the causes. Examples include:

Penis ring

Ideally made of rubber or silicon, it traps blood inside the penis. To work properly, the ring should be placed around the penis but not around the scrotum. But be careful: if the ring is made of metal it may not be possible to remove it when an erection is achieved. So, it's best to avoid metal rings.

Vacuum pump

This form of treatment requires the flaccid penis to be placed inside a cylinder (usually made of plastic or glass) from which the air is removed. This strengthens the blood flow to the erectile tissue, leading to an erection.

Medication

If these physical methods don't help, medication can be tried in the form of pills or injections. Pills act by boosting the nerve signals in order to expand the blood vessels in the penis and thus increase the flow of blood into the corpus cavernosum. At the same time, they block an enzyme that helps makes an erection difficult to maintain. If patients opt for injection therapy, a medicine will be injected into their penis, leading to an erection within around 15 minutes.

Penile implant

If none of the above methods work, it may be worth considering a cavernosal implant to treat erectile dysfunction. Daniel Eberli: «Implants are high-tech devices that enable an erection to be achieved at the touch of a button.»

The downside of prosthetic implants: It is estimated that 15% of patients experience complications. What's more, implants are costly and not covered by health insurance.

Are home remedies ef­fec­tive?

And what does Daniel Eberli think of home remedies like a glass of milk with dried asparagus, maca root powder, chilli peppers or any of the many other variations mentioned on the internet? «There is no evidence that remedies like these actually work,» says Eberli. However, he considers it possible that various home remedies could have an indirect effect. «For example, if taken as part of a preparation ritual in the belief that this is a positive thing to do.»

So, when it comes to home remedies, it's worth giving them a go so long as they're not harmful.
Prof. Daniel Eberli, Director of the Department of Urology at University Hospital Zurich

Risk factors: smoking & alcohol

The expert also stresses the importance of following a healthy lifestyle. «Men who get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, don't drink too much alcohol and don't smoke considerably reduce their risk of experiencing erectile problems.» Smoking is the number one killer factor as it attacks the blood vessels: the more a man smokes, the more likely he is to become impotent.

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