Information for patients
How do you get an erection?
When you have romantic or sexual thoughts, signals are
sent from your brain to the nerves in your penis. This
causes the arteries to relax to allow the penis to fill up with
blood. As it expands, the veins which carry blood out of
the penis become compressed. Overall, more blood enters
than leaves, so the penis then gets longer and firmer.
What is Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?
Erectile dysfunction is the medical term for difficulty
getting an erection. It can also mean difficulty in keeping
an erection long enough for fulfilling sexual activity. It is a
common problem amongst men, affecting as many as
one in every three men as they grow older.
What causes Erectile Dysfunction?
There are many reasons why you may have erection
problems. They may be related to problems with your
physical health. Common causes include:
• High cholesterol (the fat levels in your blood)
• Previous surgery (for example prostate surgery)
• Medication given to you by your doctor
Are there any other causes of Erectile
Emotional problems may affect your ability to get an
erection. You may be going through a particularly stressful
time in your life. For example: a divorce, operation,
redundancy, retirement or death of a loved one. This can
lead to erectile problems without any physical cause.
There are many lifestyle factors that may cause erectionproblems. Drinking too much alcohol, unhealthy eating,recreational drug use or low levels of exercise may wellhave an effect.
How is smoking related to ED?
Cigarette smoke contains around 41,000 chemicals.
Here are some examples of these and where they are
These chemicals cause damage to the blood vessels withinthe body. They cause narrowing of the arteries, and fattydeposits to build up, meaning it is much harder for bloodto flow into the penis, to help it to expand in the normalway.
Nicotine has a direct effect on the blood vessels whichcarry blood to the penis. This causes the blood flow to bereduced, and this makes getting and keeping an erectionmore difficult. If you stop smoking, there could be animmediate improvement in the problems you may befacing.
How might you feel if you have Erectile
Many patients feel too embarrassed to discuss erection
problems with others. This is perfectly normal, as you may
feel one or more of the following:
This could cause you to avoid intimacy with your partner,and may make your partner feel rejected, unattractive orthat they are somehow causing this to happen.
What can I do to help my erection problems?
The best way to prevent erection problems is to reduce the
chance of you having them in the first place. It is now
known that erectile dysfunction shares almost the same
risk factors as heart disease. So if you reduce these risk
factors, you may notice an all round health benefit.
Changing your lifestyle towards a more healthy way of
living is one of the ways in which you can do this.
Examples could include:
• Having blood tests to look at cholesterol levels
Should I go to my doctor about my Erectile
Erectile difficulty may be an early sign of various other
illnesses, as mentioned earlier. So it is very important to
see your doctor who will investigate the potential causes.
Your treatment may then vary depending on whether any
underlying disease is present.
What treatments are there to help with my
As mentioned previously, any underlying illnesses which
may be causing your erection difficulty will be treated
suitably by your doctor. Some of the most common
treatments for erection difficulty include:
• Medication (e.g. Viagra®, Cialis®, Levitra®)
• MUSE® (placing medicine into your water pipe)
• Penile implants (inflatable tubes inserted into your penis
• Psychosexual counselling/talking therapy
Your doctor or nurse will advise you on which therapy maybe best suited to you. Unless you there is a reason for younot to use a certain therapy (e.g. Viagra may not besuitable for you, if you take medicines containing nitrates,it could be dangerous to your health); you can choosewhich one you would like to try.
In addition to helping my ED, what other
benefits are there to stopping smoking?
There are many physical and health benefits to quitting
smoking. Smoking increases your risk of the following:
• Fertility problems (by lowering your sperm count and
There are also the added benefits of:
• Improving your sense of taste and smell
• Improving the appearance of your skin and teeth
• Helping you to feel better about yourself
Remember it is never too late to stop smoking.
The benefits begin within 20 minutes of giving
Here is a typical timeline of how your body responds
once you give up:
Within 20 minutes
. your pulse and blood pressure return
to near normal values.
Within 8 hours
. oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in
the blood return to normal.
Within 24 hours
. you decrease your risk of having a
Within 36 hours
. the nerve endings killed by cigarette
smoke begin to repair, and your sense of taste and smell
begins to return.
Within 2 weeks
. your circulation will improve.
Within 3 months
. any breathing problems, such as
coughing and wheezing, will improve.
Within a year
. you half your risk of heart disease
compared to that of a smoker.
Within 5 years
. your risk of having a stroke is the same
as a non-smoker.
Within 10 years
. your risk of lung cancer is similar to that
of a non-smoker.
Within 15 years
. your risk of heart disease has reduced
to that of a non-smoker.
I've decided I want to stop smoking, what do
Stopping smoking is not easy but it can be done.
You need to really want to stop and need to be ready.
Ideally, you should have motivation and support. You can
visit your doctor who will give you advice and may be able
to refer you to friendly stop smoking groups within your
• Call the QUIT helpline on 0800 00 22 00
who will give
you free individual advice from their councillors.
• Rantala ML, 1986, Vine MF et al, 1996
(With help by Kevan Wylie and Patricia Allen)
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