Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (a condition that is sometimes also known as impotence) is the medical term for not being able to get or to maintain an erection.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) was, until about ten years ago, a problem that many men suffered with, but was something that few men were willing to discuss. Indeed a recent survey found that over 40% of men over the age of 40 had problems getting or maintaining an erection.

Why then was the subject of erectile dysfunction such a taboo, and the cause of such embarrassment and distress to literally tens of millions of men?

Much of the problem, perhaps, was men defining their ‘manliness’ by their ability to get an erection. The ability to ‘get it up’ or to have ‘lead in your pencil’ has concerned men since the beginning of time. It has been the subject of jokes from the first recorded writings, through plays by the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare to Carry On movies.

So what changed, to allow this very serious and distressing problem, to be discussed more openly?

Firstly a change in attitude towards health, and to men’s health in particular, over the last decade has meant that erectile dysfunction is now one that is openly discussed in print, on television and on social media.

Secondly the advent of new medications, that started with Pfizer’s Viagra, that are extremely effective in treating ED have meant that men no longer have to suffer in silence.


How common is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is a very common condition and certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. There have probably been times in every man’s life when he has been unable to get an erection. This may have been the result of tiredness, of stress or of drinking too much alcohol. These causes are most likely to be temporary. There are, however, many men who have recurring erectile dysfunction or who are never able to get an erection and the instances of this increase with age.

Statistics have shown that forty per cent of men suffer with some kind of erectile dysfunction by the age of forty. Half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 have the condition and when a man reaches 70 there is a 70 per cent likelyhood that he will have erectile dysfunction.


What causes an erection?

A man gets an erection when he is sexually aroused. This can be as the result of a message from the brain travelling down the nerves of the penis or as a result of the penis itself being stimulated.

When this happens chemicals are released from the nerve end in the penis. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. When these chemicals are released they, in turn, cause another chemical to be formed called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Cyclic guanosine monophosphate makes the arteries in the penis dilate. This widening allows more blood to flow into the penis, which makes it become erect.


Treatments for erectile dysfunction

It is important to note that not everyone is entitled to erectile dysfunction treatment on the NHS. The Department of Health has issued very specific guidelines about who is eligible for medication. The Department of Health says that if a man is suffering with any of the following conditions then he may well be entitled to receive treatment for erectile dysfuction on the NHS:

  • Diabetes
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Renal failure
  • Prostate gland removal (prostatectomy)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Radical pelvic surgery
  • Single gene neurological disease
  • Severe pelvic injury
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injury

These are recommendations from the Department of Health. If, however, your GP or a specialist feels that erectile dysfunction is causing detriment or severe distress in your life then he or she can also prescribe you medications on the NHS.

If you do not have one of the listed conditions or your GP or specialist does not feel that you can be legitimately treated on the NHS then there are other options available to you. You may well be able to get a private prescription, which would give you full access to the range of medications that are now available for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Although this means that you will have to pay for the prescription and for the medication this need not be prohibitive. In the last two years the generic version of Viagra (sildenafil) has come on to the market. This is considerably cheaper than its forbearer, even though it has exactly the same active ingredient and works in the same way.

Rest assured that there is probably a treatment that will work for you and diagnosis and treatment does not have to be either embarrassing or expensive.