Erectile dysfunction and age: how does it work?

Written by the Manual Team · Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry - MD

When does erectile dysfunction start? Erectile dysfunction can occur at any age. There is a higher incidence of erectile problems in older men, but younger men may have erection troubles too.

Is ED for older men? Erectile dysfunction in older men is more likely to occur than in younger men but will not affect all men over 50. Many older men never develop erection problems

How are erectile dysfunction and age linked? Getting and maintaining an erection is a complex process governed by the precise interplay of hormones, blood vessels, nerves and muscles which connect the brain and the penis. This process is largely governed by testosterone. As you age, testosterone levels fall making this process more difficult in some men. Older men may be more at risk of diabetes, heart conditions and obesity which raises their risk for erectile dysfunction

Erectile Dysfunction and Aging: it's not that simple

Does erectile dysfunction come with age?

Not necessarily. While older men may have a slightly higher risk of erectile dysfunction due to falling testosterone levels, many men aged 50 – 85 will never experience erectile problems. In fact, many healthy older men never experience problems getting an erection.

Having said that, with advancing age health issues may occur. Cancer, heart problems like atherosclerosis that affect the arteries or having Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis may raise the risk for older men.

According to a study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine, one out of every four new erectile dysfunction (ED) patients are under 40. Although there is evidence of ED presenting more with growing age, owing to increase cardiovascular related risk factors, this statistic highlights ED is not just a problem that affects older men.

It may be possible for men of all ages to avoid and prevent erectile problems by adopting healthy lifestyle choices (avoiding smoking, drinking, managing diabetes) and minimising the use of prescription medications like antidepressants and beta-

 

When does erectile dysfunction start?

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Many young men are surprised to discover that they have erections problems. The fact is that ED is not that rare in young men. It can occur during the teen years and 20’s. Both young men and older men may have dissatisfaction with their erections temporarily (feeling they are not hard enough or don’t last long enough), which doesn’t mean they will always suffer from erectile dysfunction. Individuals suffering from this psychological causes of ED may benefit from combined psychotherapy and ED therapy.

Aging does not mean that you will automatically suffer erection problems but may make it more likely. Those aged 40-75 years of age inclusive, and registered with a GP in the UK, and have no previously diagnosed cardiovascular-related illness are eligible to uptake in the NHS health check. This is an NHS health screening programme to assess cardiovascular risk in individuals. ED may be an early warning sign of cardiovascular-related issues which this service may help identify.

When a definite medical cause is found, it is important to remember that most erectile dysfunction is treatable.

 

Different Age, Different Causes?

In older men, erectile dysfunction can be the result of declining testosterone levels due to aging, diabetes, changes in blood pressure and blood vessels or damage to the nerves or muscles that link the brain to the penis. Stress due to a changing financial position, death of a partner and the psychological impacts of age-related diseases like dementia can also take its toll. However, the natural aging process may be one of the easiest erection issues to treat as medication that increases blood flow to the penis may be prescribed.

In young men, ED is commonly due to psychological factors (stress, anxiety, low mood), a result of low testosterone or chronic health conditions like thyroid disease and diabetes. It can also be caused by lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive drinking, an unhealthy or unbalanced diet and extreme cycling activities which habitually place pressure on the perineum and can lead to temporary erectile dysfunction.