Did you know that about 30 million men¹ in the United States alone suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED)? Over time, ED can take a serious toll on one's quality of life because of the inability to maintain a healthy and fulfilling sex life. So, why does erectile dysfunction happen and how is it treated?
If you're asking yourself these questions, you've clicked on the right article. Here, we'll be exploring why erectile dysfunction might happen, how it happens, and how to treat it. We will specifically be going over three of the most common medications for erectile dysfunction: Cialis, Viagra, and Levitra.
If you suffer from erectile dysfunction, by the end of this article you'll be able to better understand your body and how to treat ED. Let's begin by explaining what exactly erectile dysfunction is.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction, sometimes known as impotence, is the inability to attain or maintain an erection², making sexual intercourse difficult or impossible. It is common for men of different age groups to have trouble achieving an erection at some point in their lives. Usually, it is temporary and is not a problem that impacts one's sex life.
However, ED is much more common in older men. In older men, ED can be more of an ongoing problem and can impact their sex lives in a negative way. ED is also not just linked to sexual dissatisfaction.
In fact, ED associates with lower self-esteem, lower confidence, and increased stress. More than that, even though ED is often associated with older men, it is not considered a normal part of aging. Because of this, ED may link to underlying medical conditions in need of treatment.
Many men may feel embarrassed to talk to their doctor about erectile dysfunction. However, it is important to talk about this problem in order to rule out serious health conditions that might cause ED and other issues. Also, a doctor will be the one to help you find the best treatment for ED.
The Anatomy of a Normal Erection
An erection can only occur when blood flow increases to the spongy muscle tissues that compose the penis. The two muscles that make up the penis are the corpus cavernosum and the corpus spongiosum. These muscles not only increase in size when engorged with blood but are also able to trap the blood to maintain an erection.
Blood is only able to enter the muscle tissue in the penis when the muscles relax. Relaxation of these involuntary muscles occurs when nerves signal the release of nitric oxide (NO). Without NO, it becomes difficult for the spongy muscles to relax and fill with blood.
After sexual intercourse, the erectile muscles of the penis no longer receive increased blood flow. Instead, these muscles suddenly contract and expel the blood back into the body's circulation. When this occurs, the penis is no longer firm but rather flaccid.
Many medications that treat ED allow for improved delivery of NO to the erectile tissues. This allows the erectile muscles to properly relax and receive an increased supply of blood.
But what causes erectile dysfunction in the first place? There are two primary causes of ED: psychological causes and physiological causes.
Psychological Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Up until the 1960s, people believed that erectile dysfunction was caused by psychological issues. However, studies have found that the majority of ED causes are physical. This does not mean that some cases of ED do not have psychological causes.
In fact, there is a variety of psychological problems that can inhibit the attainment and maintenance of an erection. These problems can prevent feelings of sexual excitement which help to trigger increased blood flow to the corpus cavernosum and the corpus spongiosum muscles.
The most common psychological causes of erectile dysfunction are depression, anxiety³, and low self-esteem. Other psychological causes may be work-related stress or arguments with one's romantic partner.
For men already suffering from these psychological problems, they can often worsen when they cause erectile dysfunction. Psychological causes of ED are more often found in younger men, usually aged in their 30s or possibly younger who are otherwise healthy.
For this type of ED, medications such as Viagra may be beneficial. However, because the underlying cause is not physiological, other treatment options may be sought. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be the better option in this case.
Cognitive behavior therapy can help to avoid maladaptive and unhealthy thought patterns. These patterns include depressive and anxious thinking as well as negative self-talk, all of which can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Other methods of treating psychological erectile dysfunction include meditation and rhythmic breathing. Since this type of ED is not caused by physiological problems, it can usually be fully treated with proper psychological help.
Physiological Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Most cases of erectile dysfunction occur in older men who tend to have more health problems than younger men. In fact, the risk of men experiencing erectile dysfunction increases significantly with each year they age. For example, 40% of men† at age 40 will experience ED and 70% of men at age 70 will experience it.
One of the reasons why ED is so common in older men may be because of decreased sexual desire associated with age. However, there are a variety of physical problems that may cause ED.
Since the penis can only become erect when it receives increased blood flow, one of the most common causes of ED is the inability of the body to allow this blood flow. Poor blood flow links with conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, and smoking.
Atherosclerosis is the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels by plaque. This prevents healthy blood flow and also commonly results in heart attacks and strokes. With any kind of heart disease, the heart is unable to pump blood properly through the body. Smoking, although not a disease, constricts blood vessels because of the nicotine content in cigarettes.
If blood flow is not the problem, there are several other possible causes of ED. For example, the erectile muscles of the penis may be able to become engorged with blood but may not be able to trap the blood. The inability to trap blood in the penis will result in failure to maintain an erection.
ED can also originate from nerve problems. There are many conditions that may damage nerves. These include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and others.
ED may simply result from an unhealthy lifestyle. This includes excessive alcohol consumption, poor sleep, poor diet, and obesity.
How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction
Depending on the erectile dysfunction causes, ED may be treated in different ways. Improving overall physical health is often the first choice for doctors. This includes losing weight and managing diabetes or heart disease.
Regular daily exercise can help improve blood flow throughout the body. This exercise can be as simple as taking a walk down the street. Improving diet and limiting tobacco and alcohol consumption will also be beneficial.
If all of these health concerns have already been addressed and you still suffer from ED, there are more treatment options available. One of the most common treatment options is medication. This medication usually comes in the form of erectile dysfunction pills such as Cialis, Viagra, and Levitra.
From here, we'll discuss each of these three ED medications, how they work, and how they differ. Not every pill works on every case of ED which is why it is important to be familiar with different treatment options.
Cialis, also known as tadalafil‡, works by increasing the blood flow to the erectile tissues of the penis. It does this by relaxing the muscles and allowing them to receive blood. A unique benefit of this medication is that it also can treat an enlarged prostate which is another problem older men commonly experience.
Since Cialis treats prostate enlargement, it can relieve symptoms of frequent urination or difficulty urinating. Cialis is a pill taken by mouth with or without food once per day. Before sexual intercourse, take Cialis 30 minutes beforehand.
However, if Cialis is taken every day, you may engage in sexual activity regardless of the time the pill was taken. The effects of Cialis can work up to 36 hours after the first dose.
There are some downsides to Cialis. Those who have had a heart attack or stroke within recent months should not take Cialis. You should also not take nitrates along with Cialis. There are also several side effects with this medication.
These side effects include stomach problems, lightheadedness, flushing, and muscle pain. These side effects are not common, however, those over the age of 65 are more likely to experience side effects.
In very rare cases, an allergic reaction may occur. This reaction may include rashes, swelling of the throat and face, and difficulty breathing.
In rare cases, Cialis may cause painful or long-lasting erections. If an erection lasts more than 4 hours, it is important to seek medical help.
Viagra, also known as sildenafil±, also works by increasing blood flow to the penis. Similar to Cialis, Viagra should be taken no more than once a day. It should be taken around 30 minutes before engaging in any sexual activity.
Unlike Cialis, Viagra should not be taken with food, especially not high-fat foods. This may delay Viagra's effects. Your doctor will prescribe an accurate dosage of this medication depending on the severity of your ED.
The majority of people that take Viagra do not experience serious side effects. There are, however, a variety of side effects that Viagra may cause. These include headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, and blurred vision.
As with Cialis, Viagra should not be taken with nitrates. This is because when taking these medications together, they may cause a dangerous decrease in blood pressure. Unlike Cialis, Viagra tends to work for less than 36 hours.
It is important to alert your doctor if you have recently had heart problems such as a heart attack or stroke before taking Viagra. This will allow the doctor to determine if Viagra is the right medication for you.
An allergic reaction to Viagra is rare but serious and should be treated at a hospital. Any erection lasting longer than 4 hours is also considered a medical emergency. This is because painful, long-lasting erections can cause permanent damage to the penis.
Levitra, also known as vardenafil°, works by increasing blood flow to the erectile tissues of the penis. It is a pill meant to be taken by mouth and can be taken with or without food. It dissolves on the tongue and may work faster if taken without food.
Levitra takes longer to work compared to Viagra or Cialis. It should be taken an hour before engaging in sexual activity. It should not be taken more than once a day.
A unique drawback with this medication is that it should not be consumed with grapefruit juice. This is because grapefruit can increase the risk of side effects.
Side effects include lightheadedness, headache, and vision changes. Serious vision problems are more likely to occur if you have high cholesterol or heart disease. Most people do not experience side effects, however, they are more likely in those above the age of 50.
As with the other medications, Levitra should not be taken with nitrates. Allergic reactions are rare.
Treating Erectile Dysfunction
You are now familiar with why and how erectile dysfunction happens and how to treat it. If you suffer from erectile dysfunction and feel that it is interfering with your quality of life, you can take the steps to treat your condition.
For more about medications for erectile dysfunction and more, learn how to order here∗.
¹(2017). "Definition and Facts For Erectile Dysfunction." National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
²Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). "Erectile Dysfunction." Mayo Clinic.
³Davis, C.P. (2021). "Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Causes and Treatment." OnHealth.
†Lakin, M. & Wood, H. (2018). "Erectile Dysfunction." Cleveland Clinic.
‡Sheehy, C. (2020). "Cialis (Tadalafil)." PriceproPharmacy.
±Sheehy, C. (2021). "Viagra (Sildenafil)." PriceproPharmacy.
°Sheehy, C. (2021). "Levitra (Vardenafil)." PriceproPharmacy.
∗"How To Order Your Prescription Drugs Online from Canada." PriceproPharmacy.