An estimated 3 million men aged 40 or older suffer from erectile dysfunction in Canada. That's almost half of the men in that age bracket.
ED can be rooted in any number of causes. Advanced age and the loss of testosterone that come with it will affect most men as they grow older. And in younger men, psychological factors like stress and anxiety are among the leading causes.
But physiological issues can also cause episodes of erectile dysfunction. Obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease may all contribute to erectile dysfunction.
And in the same category, diabetes and erectile dysfunction tend to go hand-in-hand. To explain the link between the two, let's explore the causes and symptoms of each so that we can see why developing diabetes may contribute to developing ED.
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Just because you can't achieve an erection once or twice does not mean that you have erectile dysfunction. Plenty of men experience this from time to time without any underlying condition to blame.
However, if you notice a consistent change in the frequency or duration of your erections over a considerable period, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
ED can significantly impact a man's confidence, self-esteem, and relationship satisfaction if left untreated. So while it's not always very pleasant to discuss such personal matters, only a medical professional is qualified to render a diagnosis, so reluctance may prevent you from getting the treatment you need.
After describing your symptoms to your doctor, they may refer you to a urologist for a full evaluation. Along with considering your entire medical history and reported symptoms, they'll perform a physical exam to check for potential nerve problems that may be to blame.
They may also order blood and urine tests to check for hormonal issues that can contribute to ED.
One common condition they'll check for is diabetes, as it's a major driver of erectile dysfunction.
The good news is that even if you do develop ED, either as an effect of diabetes or as an independent condition, you have treatment options.
Though they may not appear related at a glance, having diabetes is a major risk factor for developing erectile dysfunction. Half of all diabetic men will develop ED. And on average, they'll do it about 10 to 15 years earlier than their counterparts without diabetes.
But why is this the case? Well, let's take a closer look at how diabetes affects the body.
Diabetes refers to several diseases that concern the hormone insulin. In a healthy body, the pancreas produces insulin to help the body process sugars and fats from food.
Diabetes occurs when either the pancreas slows or halts insulin production or when the body stops responding to the hormone as it should.
There are two main types of disease. Type 1 diabetes affects about 5-10% of diabetics. Usually diagnosed in childhood, its causes are not currently clear, though it's thought to be a genetic autoimmune disorder where the body attacks its own pancreatic cells.
Type 2 diabetes is by far the more common variation and is probably what you think of when diabetes is mentioned. It usually develops due to being overweight and inactive, although genetics and environmental factors can also play roles. In any case, it's the result of there being too much sugar in the bloodstream over a prolonged period.
According to one report, half of all men with type 2 diabetes can expect to develop erectile dysfunction within 5 to 10 years of the disease's onset. It's so common that developing ED under the age of 45 is considered a marker that the patient likely has diabetes.
The reason for this is how diabetes affects the nervous and circulatory systems.
Attaining and maintaining an erection depends on healthy blood flow and nerve activity in the genitals. A surplus of sugar in the blood can damage nerves and small blood vessels like those in the penis.
Damaged nerves lead to lessened sexual stimulation, and damaged blood vessels make it harder to physically achieve an erection.
Several risk factors may increase the odds of diabetes complications like ED. In particular, you want to look for anything that can contribute to high blood sugar levels or poor cardiovascular health.
Here are some common risk factors to look for in your lifestyle.
People who smoke tobacco are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place. The more you smoke, the higher that risk tends to be.
And once you develop diabetes, smoking tends to make its symptoms harder to manage. It damages your cardiovascular health and can reduce blood flow to the extremities. For people with ED, this means that the reduced blood flow that helps to cause your ED is made worse by smoking.
So if you've been meaning to quit, there's no time like the present.
Alcohol and diabetes don't mix. And if your doctor has diagnosed you, you've hopefully been told as much already.
It can cause blood sugar to either rise or fall depending on a variety of factors you may or may not be aware of at any given time. It can also cause or exacerbate cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure or heart disease.
That said, if ED is a concern for you, then you should consider cutting out alcohol as much as possible whether you have diabetes or not. Heavy drinking is a leading cause of ED even in otherwise healthy men, so consider spending more evenings sober than not.
If you are overweight, you're at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There is also some evidence to suggest that obesity contributes to ED as well.
And diabetes, obesity, and ED all become more common as we age.
In part, obesity contributes to diabetes because it tends to go hand-in-hand with poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity. But accumulating abdominal fat, in particular, seems to cause the release of "pro-inflammatory" chemicals that may reduce sensitivity to insulin.
At the same time, obesity tends to correlate with the loss of testosterone in men. Lower testosterone means lower sexual desire and fewer erections, so carrying extra weight compounds the ED issue from multiple directions.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. Despite some of those dire statistics, living with diabetes while maintaining an active sex life is possible.
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the best way to deal with ED if you have diabetes is to make lifestyle changes that can help you lead as healthy a life as you possibly can.
We already mentioned quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol as two great moves that you can make. Outside of those, managing your weight and blood sugar are the two best things that you can do.
Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will be essential to combating ED and maintaining good health throughout your life. In addition to promoting higher energy levels and a positive mood — two things that can encourage a healthy sexual function themselves — it can help prevent damage to nerves and blood vessels.
It would be best if you also made physical activity a priority. Besides helping you manage blood sugar levels, it will help improve circulation, get better-quality sleep, and reduce your stress levels.
And speaking of stress, that should be the next item on your docket. Stress can interfere with your ability to be present and aroused in intimate moments, even at the best of times. Finding ways to manage your stress levels will help you lead a healthier life both in the bedroom and out.
The good news is that even if you do develop ED, either as an effect of diabetes or as an independent condition, you have treatment options. According to one report, treatments are so effective that only 29% of men who cured their ED experienced another episode within the next five years.
Once your doctor diagnoses you, they may prescribe you one of several common medications. Common ones are well-tolerated by most men, and having diabetes shouldn't interfere with your ability to take them. But again, only your doctor is qualified to make an informed treatment choice.
As for diabetes, unfortunately, there is no cure at this time. But it is a manageable condition, and by making positive lifestyle changes, you can slow its progression. Many patients even go into remission, going for years without experiencing symptoms.
It all depends on living in the healthiest fashion in which you are able.
When dealing with diabetes or a similar chronic condition, the goal is to manage it in such a way that you can still enjoy a high quality of life. And that includes maintaining a healthy sex life.
Fortunately, both diabetes and erectile dysfunction are manageable conditions. For ideas on how to maintain an active intimate life with persistent ED, check out these creative ways you and your partner can enjoy each other's company without penetration.