As we get older, our arteries become narrower and less elastic, which forces our blood pressure to rise gradually as the heart beats ever harder to get blood around the body. This damages the arteries, reducing blood flow to the penis.
What you can do: Ask your GP to check your blood pressure. Lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and lowering salt intake may improve erectile dysfunction.
If you are already taking blood pressure medication and suffer from impotence, mention it to your doctor as some pills, such as Thiazide diuretics and beta blockers, can trigger or worsen it and your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative.
The many stresses of modern life, compounded with poor diet, lack of exercise, drinking and smoking, can put you at risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, both of which cause narrowing of the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart — and to the penis.
So, weak erections can be an early sign of heart trouble.
‘The blood vessels in your penis are 1mm to 2mm wide, much smaller than those in the arteries to your heart (3mm to 4mm wide), so they show up signs of narrowing more quickly,’ says Dr Graham Jackson, a cardiologist and chairman of the Sexual Advice Association.
He warns that impotence occurs, on average, about three years before a heart problem appears, especially in men in their 40s or 50s. ‘Men with erectile dysfunction are 50 times more likely to have heart problems than men with normal heart function,’ he says.
What you can do: Get your heart and cholesterol levels checked. Improving your diet and boosting exercise levels can reduce your cholesterol levels. Your GP might also recommend a cholesterol-lowering statin drug.
‘There is some evidence that statins can help with erectile dysfunction,’ says Dr Edwards. ‘But some statins list erectile dysfunction among their possible side-effects.’
Half a million people in Britain are believed to have undiagnosed diabetes — a condition where your body cannot process the sugar in your blood effectively. Left untreated, this can lead to damage to the blood vessels and the nerves, and according to urologist Sudhanshu Chitale, this can cause poor blood flow to the penis, too.
What you can do: Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to irreversible ED. If you are diagnosed with, or already have, diabetes, keeping your blood sugar levels stable (through diet and possibly medication) may help prevent impotence. However, Mr Chitale warns: ‘More than 50 per cent of diabetics will have ED at some point, and it becomes more common as they grow older.’
The prostate is a small, doughnut-shaped gland that sits under the bladder, around the urethra.
Prostate problems are common with age — typically these are prostatis, a bacterial infection which causes the gland to become swollen, and an enlarged prostate, which is linked to testosterone.