There are many myths surrounding erectile dysfunction (ED), such as it is only an old man’s problem, or it is not a sign that you may have a serious health problem. In fact, the inability to get or maintain an erection can affect men of any age, and persistent ED should always be discussed with a doctor.
This is because although ED is not considered to be a medically serious problem in itself, it can be a sign of a more serious underlying health problem. These include potentially life-threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
ED is often a warning signal that the body’s nervous system or ability to circulate blood effectively is compromised. Any condition that affects the nerves, lungs, liver, heart, or kidneys could be responsible for poor sexual function. It may also be a consequence of taking certain medications, such as antidepressants or blood pressure tablets.
In some cases, psychological problems including depression, anxiety, and stress can cause ED. This may lead to or have been caused by relationship problems which can also create further difficulties in the bedroom. Men with ED can often become depressed as a result of the condition, making the cycle even more challenging to break.
One of the barriers many men face to successfully overcoming ED is simply their reluctance to discuss it with anyone. Naturally it is a sensitive topic and most men have not traditionally been encouraged to reveal any so called ‘weaknesses.’ Unfortunately this has created poor outcomes for male health.
Men are much less likely to visit the doctor than women, and on average they die earlier and more often from preventable diseases. Another result of this toxic culture is that men sometimes turn to scientifically dubious methods of treating a health problem, because they have heard a conversation in a pub or read an unverified article online.
One persistent story about the treatment of ED is so-called ‘red light therapy.’ This involves exposing the testicles to infrared light for up to a minute at a time. This supposedly releases nitric oxide in the genital area, which helps the blood vessels in the penis dilate and boosts the chances of getting an erection.
However, there is no scientific evidence that the treatment works on humans as experiments have only ever been carried out on animals.
Professor Paul Chazot, a scientist at Durham University, who is researching the red light therapy in dementia told the Daily Mail: ‘Nitric oxide release can be beneficial in several clinical situations — including erectile dysfunction. So this could potentially be useful. But these findings are in rats and may not extrapolate well to humans.’
The only medically advisable course of action to treat ED is to talk to your doctor or a pharmacist in the first instance. They may recommend approved treatments such as Viagra tablets, which have been proven to be safe and effective in clinical trials and have been used successfully by millions of men worldwide.