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Erectile dysfunction is a common problem affecting up to 30 million men in the United States. Also known as impotence, the term erectile dysfunction refers to several issues with sexual functioning. At its worst, a man cannot achieve an erection at all or follow-through having sexual intercourse with his partner. Erectile dysfunction also makes it challenging to maintain an erection long enough for satisfying sex and causes problems with ejaculation. Left untreated, the condition can cause depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, and a host of other emotional issues.

While erectile dysfunction and the resulting emotional issues are difficult to experience, the good news is that the condition is highly treatable. The first step is visiting a urologist to determine the cause of your erectile dysfunction. We outline several possible causes of erectile dysfunction below. Depending on the reason for the impotence, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat it and/or recommend specific lifestyle changes.


The simple fact of getting older is one of the most common reasons men develop erectile dysfunction. Estimates of men who have the disorder before age 40 range from two to 12 percent. More than half of men experience the problem by age 70, and the likelihood increases by approximately 10 percent per decade. You can’t slow downtime, but you don’t need to accept a non-existent or unsatisfying sex life either.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Men who regularly eat unhealthy foods, get little exercise, or are overweight or obese have more difficulty with erectile dysfunction than their healthier counterparts. There’s a scientific reason for this. Instead of producing adequate amounts of testosterone that would allow for a normal erection, the overweight or otherwise unhealthy male body produces the female hormone estrogen instead. If you need to lose weight, check with your doctor about starting a healthy diet and exercise program. You might be amazed at the difference in your erection quality after losing only a small percentage of your body weight.

Mental Health Issues or Drug Abuse

You must become sexually excited before you can achieve an erection. This can be difficult to do when you deal with depression or anxiety. Some men struggle with feelings that they can’t achieve a decent erection or satisfy their partner. Doctors refer to this as performance anxiety. Certain drugs can increase the likelihood of experiencing impotence as well. Alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines are three common examples.


Erectile dysfunction is common among men with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. More important than having diabetes, however, is how well you control your blood sugar. Impotence rates among younger men can be as high as 50 percent for those with poorly controlled blood sugar. Although you may not be able to make erectile dysfunction go away completely, following all your doctor’s recommendations for managing your diabetes will help you control it to the best of your ability.

Side Effect of Certain Medications

Some medications affect the flow of blood to the penis, which is necessary to achieve and maintain an erection. If you experience this side effect, speak to your doctor about a potential medication alternative. You should never stop taking any medication prescribed to you without consulting a medical professional. Here are some of the most typical medications known to cause erectile dysfunction:

  • Alpha androgenic blockers
  • Anti-depressants, especially those belonging to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) family
  • Beta-blockers
  • Chemotherapy medications
  • Depressants of the central nervous system
  • Diuretics
  • Illicit drugs, including amphetamines and cocaine
  • Synthetic hormones
  • High Cholesterol and Heart Disease

These two conditions have long had an association to erectile dysfunction. However, the connection isn’t always obvious. Some men receive a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction and don’t know they have high cholesterol or heart disease until a few years later. You might even want to ask your doctor about screening for these health conditions at the time of your erectile dysfunction diagnosis.


When you inhale tobacco smoke, it decreases blood flow in all areas of the body. This includes the penis, which means long-term smokers may eventually face this issue. As with all other controllable health factors, the best thing you can do to maintain the most satisfying sex life possible is to quit smoking.

These are just some of the many common causes of erectile dysfunction. Your urologist will explore all possibilities and provide you with guidance to treat the issue.

Bellingham Clinic

340 Birchwood Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: (360) 714-3400
Fax: (360) 714-3402

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1311 E Division St
Mount Vernon, WA 98274

Phone: (360) 404-5194

Our Philosophy

Dr. Pettit, Dr. Emeruwa, Dr. Bryson, and the entire staff of Bellingham Urology Group pledge compassion and a thorough commitment to the well-being of each and every patient. In fact, patients know us for that. We pride ourselves on delivering the highest standard of care and on making each office visit, from start to finish, as pleasant, comforting, and friendly as possible.

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