Researchers continue to learn more about COVID-19’s long-term impact on our bodies. Now they’re looking into the link between the virus and erectile dysfunction (ED). That’s when a person has a hard time getting or keeping their penis firm enough to have sex.
What’s Causing It?
Researchers think three things may trigger ED in COVID-19 survivors:
Cardiovascular problems. ED can be an early sign of heart disease. Research also shows COVID-19 can affect heart health. That’s because it can lead to inflammation in various parts of your body. This includes your heart and the blood vessels and veins nearby.
COVID-19 has also been linked to endothelial dysfunction. That’s when the inner lining or wall of blood vessels stays stiff instead of expanding and contracting to allow blood flow. This can affect how blood is pumped and carried through your body, including tissue in the penis. Disrupted blood supply to your penis can make it difficult to get or keep an erection.
Mental issues. COVID-19-related stress, anxiety, and depression can also impact sexual health and possibly lead to ED.
Poor overall health. Experts say ED is usually a symptom of another medical condition. If your health isn’t great to begin with, you’re more likely to have severe or unwanted symptoms from COVID-19, such as ED.
Older age can also increase your risk for both ED and a severe form of COVID-19 infection.
What’s the Evidence Behind It?
One study found that people infected with the virus were more than 5 times more likely to develop ED. In another small study, researchers took penis tissue samples from two men who’d been infected with COVID-19. One had had severe symptoms, the other mild. The samples were taken before both men had surgery for severe ED symptoms. The scientists found COVID-19 viral particles and endothelial dysfunction long after the two men first had their infections.
It’s still too early to know for sure what the long-term effects of the virus are on sexual and reproductive health.
What Can You Do?
ED as a side effect of COVID-19 can be short- or long-term. But experts aren't not sure if these complications can lead to issues with fertility.
Tell your doctor right away if you think you have ED, especially after a COVID-19 infection. They’ll ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam. They might also order lab tests or refer you to a urologist. That’s a doctor who specializes in treating problems in the male reproductive tract. They’ll figure out what’s causing your ED and come up with a treatment plan.
Experts recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine to lower your risk of ED as a side effect.