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Sometimes men can have problems getting an erection but often this is a blip - a temporary problem caused by tiredness or too much alcohol. Erectile dysfunction describes the situation when erections frequently fail or happen so often it impacts your life.
Erections begin with stimulation either physically or emotionally. The brain sends messages to increase blood flow to the penis that fills the spongy tissue. This makes the penis firm enough for penetrative sex. Erectile dysfunction happens when too little blood enters the spongy tissues and fails to make it firm. It's also known as impotence.
Many things can prevent the flow of blood to the penis such as medical issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Surgery on the prostate and bladder can damage the nerves too. Other physical reasons include:
Psychological problems can also prevent blood flow to the penis. Stimulation begins in the brain. If the brain does not send out signals to increase the flow of blood then erectile dysfunction occurs. This can be due to stress, worry, traumatic experiences, guilt and anxiety over getting an erection.
Older men are more prone but men of any age can suffer from erectile problems. It's thought one in five men will have a problem at some point in their lives.
A study has indicated that caffeine may stimulate blood flow to the penis.
The study, carried out the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, looked at data on 3,700 men from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Men answered questions based on their previous 24 hour caffeine consumption. Researchers found that men who drank 2-3 cups of coffee a day were less likely to experience erectile dysfunction. The result was higher in overweight men but it did not affect diabetics.
Those drinking 85-170 milligrams of caffeine a day were 42% less likely to report erectile dysfunction, but those who drank more 171 to 303 milligrams a day were 39% less likely to report erectile dysfunction, pointing to an optimal amount of caffeine.
Researchers don't know exactly why it happens but propose that caffeine relaxes the penile' cavernous smooth muscles and arteries that allows better blood flow.
Perhaps this study isn't surprising given that current research on caffeine suggests 3 -5 cups a day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease - according to the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee position. Diabetes and heart disease are two main physical reasons for erectile dysfunction so it makes caffeine an all-round helpful tool in the fight against erectile dysfunction.
Being overweight affects erectile habits. Too much salt, sugar and fat leads to obesity, diabetes and poor health. This means that blood flow is poor and erections are badly affected. If you are overweight, cut out poor food choices such as fried foods or fizzy drinks and replace them with fruit, vegetables, lean meat and more water.
Exercising strengthens your cardiovascular system and enhances blood flow. If you're not exercising, it's time to start. If you're overweight ask your doctor for advice on how to start gently, but for most overweight men walking everyday is a good place to begin.
Alcohol can temporarily prevent erections but long-term alcohol abuse can cause erectile dysfunction, as can drug use. Cut down if you're having more than the national recommended amount. In the UK that's 14 units a week for men and women; That's the equivalent of six glasses of wine or six pints of lager.
Stress is an erection enemy. Take some steps to reduce the stresses in your life. Exercise and mindfulness are helpful ways to lower stress, levels but getting to the root of your problem is important. When anxiety and stress interfere with your life, it can be hard to break away. Talk to your GP if you need support.
If you suffer from diabetes or other illnesses, it's important to get these under control. Once managed, your erections may naturally re-appear.
Prescription medicines can help enormously. There are many choices such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. They differ slightly but all work by relaxing the muscles and allowing blood to flow freely into the penis. Some men suffer mild side effects but they are generally well received. It's never a good idea to purchase black market Viagra or herbal Viagra as these are not regulated and are unsafe for some.
Counselling can help those who have psychological issues that prevent erections. This can stem from traumatic experiences, to boredom with a relationship, to being stuck in a cycle of worrying about erections.
If you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, you're far from alone. Many men are dealing with the same problem. Make some lifestyle changes and see your doctor if things don't improve. Some caffeine may help too - coffee perks you up in the morning and it seems it may also perk up your penis.