A man's penis is not only a measure of his manhood, it can also be a harbinger for hidden health problems. In 80% of cases, erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to obtain and sustain an erection, can be traced back to an organic cause not related to sexual drive.
This may come as a surprise, especially to teenage boys, but obtaining an erection is physiologically hard. Penile erection can only come about when the necessary psychological, neurological, vascular and hormonal factors are all aligned. Problems along the way can stymie a night of lovemaking and take its toll on self esteem.
Erection all begins with arousal (except while you sleep). Sexual stimulation triggers the release of nitric oxide, a chemical that causes smooth muscles lining blood vessels to relax. This makes the tiny blood vessels inside the penis's 2 chambers to fill with blood. At the same time, muscles tighten around veins to prevent blood from leaving. When more comes in and less goes out, the penis becomes engorged with blood causing it to get longer, wider and stiffer.
Lethal Litmus Tests
To get to the organic root of erectile problems you need to look at the conditions that affect the nerves, blood vessels and hormones that relate to the penis. This is where ED becomes a heads-up for some life-threatening conditions.
Blood Vessel Damage
Damage can occur in arteries or veins supplying the penis. The most common cause of blood vessel damage comes from atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries that also causes heart attacks, stroke and peripheral vascular disease (PAD). Blood vessel narrowing is usually secondary to diabetes. It prevents blood vessels from relaxing and dilating properly ultimately reduces the amount of blood that can enter the chambers of the penis that keep things erect. High blood pressure and altered blood cholesterol levels also affect blood vessels.
Damage to Nerves
One of the most common causes is nerve damage (neuropathy) caused by uncontrolled diabetes. People who have had a stroke, damaging seizures, spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis may also have damage to the nerves supplying the penis.
Testosterone deficiency can decrease libido and cause ED. Technically called hypogonadism, abnormally low levels of testosterone can cause erectile dysfunction. If testicles are smaller than 1.5 inches there's a very good chance you may have low testosterone. High prolactin hormone (hyperprolactinemia) and abnormal thyroid hormone levels can cause fatigue and weight gain and affect libido.
If you really want to get a man to stop smoking tell them it will cause erection problems. Smoking not only leads to atherosclerosis, but it robs the body of nitric oxide, essential for penile erections.
Overweight and Inactivity - Nothing puts a damper on sex like a buried penis. ED can be as high as 80% among obese and overweight men. Additionally, overweight men who lose 35 pounds can add an inch to the length of their penis!
Men, and the women and men who love them, should be alert to erectile dysfunction because it may be a hidden cause of a life-threatening condition. Making modifications to your lifestyle might even reverse ED.
Here are some tips that can keep your penis up and running.
- Stop smoking - Tobacco smoke can corrupt blood vessels and steal nitric oxide.
- Know your numbers - Learn your blood pressure, cholesterol profile and sugar levels
- Do a hormone check - Measure testosterone, prolactin and thyroid hormone levels
- Assess medications - Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause ED. Find out if there is a substitute medication you can take instead.
- Stay lean - When men have a big belly, they make more estrogen, which reduces testosterone. If an overweight man loses 35 lbs, he will see his penis gain an inch.
- Get moving - ED is high among men who are sedentary and low among those who are active. Exercise also increases testosterone.
- Do the stamp test - A way to tell if a man's ED is organic problem and not physiological, try wrapping a strip of overlapping stamps around the shaft of the penis before you go to sleep. Normal unconscious nighttime erections will bust the ring by morning.