Issues with ED

Carolyn Magner | June 01, 2010

Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of other health concerns


As if life on the road is not tough enough, some of the same chronic health conditions that contribute to truckers’ quality of life may also cause impotence and/or difficulties with erections. The medical term “erectile dysfunction” describes the condition where you may be unable to achieve erection or may only be able to achieve brief erections. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 30 million men in the United States experience chronic erectile dysfunction. Men over the age of 40 with health conditions common to truckers, such as heart disease, obesity or diabetes, are at higher risk than other populations.

As prevalent as the condition is and in spite of a barrage of ads promoting drugs designed to cure the problem, men still don’t like to talk to their doctors about ED. It can be an embarrassing subject to bring up, but sometimes it’s a symptom of more serious issues, such as heart disease. Often men go in for one complaint, such as for possible sleep apnea, and end up telling their doctor about their ED during the work-up. Steven Y. Park, author of Sleep, Interrupted, says that in one study, nearly 70 percent of men with sleep apnea were found to also have ED. Diabetic truckers with ED have an eightfold risk of heart disease they didn’t even know they had.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your sex life, the first step should be a thorough checkup by your family doctor. He will determine the cause of your ED and may suggest diet and lifestyle changes along with medications proven to improve sexual function.

It’s important to remember that ED doesn’t happen alone. It’s a symptom of other various problems, which include heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea. It’s important to at least look for or consider all these other conditions when talking with your doctor.


Physical causes

If you are over 50 years old and have chronic health conditions found in the trucking population, your erection problems are most likely caused by your physical conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, common causes of ED include:

• Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and obesity.

• Metabolic syndrome, a condition involving increased blood pressure, high insulin levels, body fat around the waist and high cholesterol.

• Diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

• Hormonal factors such as low testosterone.

• Peyronie’s disease, development of scar tissue inside the penis.

• Prescription medications such as drugs taken for high blood pressure and depression.

• Tobacco, alcohol or illegal drug use.

• Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate

• Surgeries or injuries that affect the pelvic area or spinal cord.


Psychological causes

Relationship issues, anxiety, stress, fatigue and depression can interfere with normal sexual function. Dr. Park says that arousal (and erection) is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system, whereas orgasm is activated by the sympathetic nervous system. Having too much stress (sympathetic tone — the fight or flight response) from not sleeping effectively, or from any other source of job or relationship stress, can prevent arousal by suppressing the parasympathetics (the relaxation half of your involuntary nervous system). Many patients with ED caused by emotional and relationship issues benefit from counseling. No matter the cause, the good news is that there are effective, available treatment options.


Treatment

The most popular, well-known treatments for ED are prescription oral medications such as Viagra (Sildenafil), Cialis (Tadafil) and Levitra (Vardenafil) that enhance the blood flow to the penis. Some patients experience side effects or adverse reactions, so it’s important to follow your physician’s directions. Other treatments include hormone replacement therapy to replace diminished levels of testosterone, needle injection therapy, intra-urethral therapy (where you give yourself the injection), vacuum pumps, surgery and penile implants. There are also plenty of scams promising to cure your ED with “natural” products. Check with your doctor before taking any herbs or vitamins.

One or two episodes of ED don’t mean you are doomed to a bad sex life or catastrophic health news. Make an appointment with your doctor and have a frank talk about your symptoms.


Preventing Erectile Dysfunction

Steps you can take toward preventing erectile dysfunction and also improving your overall health.

• Stop smoking.

• Exercise regularly.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Review your medications with your doctor and ask about possible substitutions for those that may cause or exacerbate ED (never stop or change a medication without first talking to your doctor).

• Take prescribed medications as directed.

• Avoid excessive use of alcohol (more than two drinks a day).

• Avoid the use of illegal drugs.

• If you have a chronic illness such as diabetes or kidney disease, follow your doctor’s guidelines to keep these conditions in control.

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