Can erectile dysfunction be caused by a disease?

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

Is erectile dysfunction physical? Erectile dysfunction has a very obvious physical presentation. However, it is generally considered a secondary problem that results from other diseases or chronic conditions. Several diseases can contribute to ED including clogged arteries and heart disease, thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism), high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Can erectile dysfunction be caused by a vascular condition? Many of the illnesses mentioned above damage the blood vessels in the body. When vascular damage lowers blood flow to organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys they may also diminish blood flow to the penis and cause erectile dysfunction.

Can erectile dysfunction be caused by diabetes? The link between erectile dysfunction and diabetes is well known. Diabetes can contribute to ED by damaging the blood supply to the penis (blood vessel damage) and the nerves that control an erection. Raised sugar levels can damage nervous tissue in and around the penis, and as a result, can lead to loss of sensation. This may mean it becomes more difficult to get aroused due to loss of sensitivity.

Is erectile dysfunction caused by a disease?

There are many disease processes that act as potential causes of ED. While there are many physical causes (cardiovascular, diabetes, hypo and hyperthyroidism, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease) there are also many other factors that cause erection problems. ED can be an outcome of psychological disturbance i.e. acute stress, depression or anxiety disorders.

Smoking, excessive drinking, poor nutrition (lacking foods that contain zinc) are also erectile dysfunction risk factors. ED can also be caused by medications like beta blockers, diabetes medications and medications that control high blood pressure, antihistamines and antidepressants.

Despite worries, ED needs a full medical workup by an experienced professional. Start by visiting your GP. He or she may refer you to a urologist that deals with problems with the genitals, or an endocrinologist that will assess your hormone levels, including your testosterone and thyroid levels and risk of diabetes.


Which diseases can cause erectile dysfunction?

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Erectile dysfunction pathophysiology has been extensively studied, especially the link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Atherosclerosis for example often cause erection problems by damaging artery walls. About half of all men aged 40-70 may have some degree of ED. And in these cases, 50-70% of cases are caused by diseases that affect the blood vessels in the body.

Some STDs and HIV infection can trigger erectile dysfunction. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that affects men and women. If left untreated it can cause erection problems due to chronic prostatitis (infection of the prostate gland). Erectile dysfunction and prostate issues can be effectively treated. Erectile dysfunction is more common in patients with HIV. This is likely due to the illness itself as well as the drugs used to treat it. 

Diabetes with poor blood glucose control can damage the body and lead to ED. Obese men are also more prone to developing erection problems. Since many of the diseases already discussed are more common as we age, erectile dysfunction is slightly more common in men over 50 and particularly in men over 65. However this does not make it a foregone conclusion. About half of men in this age group never have erection problems.

ED can affect younger men and teens, and in this case Type 1 diabetes or psychological illness like depression/anxiety disorders may be a factor. ED may result from performance anxiety in young men who lack sexual confidence. Erectile dysfunction and hypothyroidism can occur in young men.


Erectile dysfunction and diabetes

The link between erectile dysfunction and diabetic illness is well established. Not only does diabetes damage the blood vessels and nerves in the body but untreated high blood glucose can affect the heart. Heart problems will only make ED more likely, as will strokes caused by diabetic damage to the blood vessels. The good news is that impotence with diabetes can be treated.


Erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure

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Sustained high blood pressure can damage arteries. This causes the artery walls to become thicker. Thicker artery walls can restrict blood flow to the body’s organs. This restricted blood flow also affects the penis. Some medicines used to treat hypertension can also aggravate erection problems. Low blood pressure also results in a restriction of the blood pressure needed to sustain an erection in some men.