Being unable to have or keep an erection adequate for sexual activity is the defining mark of erectile dysfunction. The problem may manifest itself in several ways. If the dysfunction:
Is transient or appearing only occasionally, the problem is not likely to be serious; all men experience problems with erections at some time in their lives.
Develops gradually and persistently, there is probably a physical cause; this is generally the case with chronic impotence.
Thanks to advertisements for drugs that treat it, you may have heard more about erectile dysfunction than you ever cared to. But did you know that atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries -- is the main cause of ED?
The link between atherosclerosis and erectile dysfunction is well known to doctors. If you have ED, understanding the connection might just save your life.
Atherosclerosis and Erectile Dysfunction: Slowing the Rush
The blood supply to the penis comes from arteries in the abdomen (belly). Smaller arteries branch off to carry blood down into the penis. When it's time for an erection, these arteries dilate. More blood flows into the penis, causing it to swell.
The rush of blood creates high pressure in the penis that also slows down the flow of blood out of the penis. This produces a firm erection that can be maintained until orgasm -- if the blood vessels are healthy.
Atherosclerosis and Erectile Dysfunction: Dam Blockages?
To get and maintain an erection, blood vessels in the penis have to be robust, to rapidly increase blood flow. Erectile dysfunction usually means blood vessels everywhere aren't in perfect health. This can be a signal of increased risk, long before blockages from atherosclerosis form.
To understand what goes wrong, think of blood flow as a river over a dam. Engineers control the flow: they can increase flow to make rapids, or narrow it to a trickling stream.
A similar mechanism is at work in your arteries. In your penis, blood flow needs to open wide during sexual arousal. Likewise, you need wide open blood flow to your heart's arteries during exercise. The inside lining of blood vessels (endothelium) releases chemicals on demand to accomplish this.