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Erectile Dysfunction and the Aging Male

Changes in fertility occur in men with age and sperm counts lower slightly with age even in healthy men. However it is well known that men at the age of 70 and beyond, can still father children and have a good sex life. However some older men, particularly if they have other medical complications, may be less fertile. In the case of a severe illness, there may other changes in reproductive function leading to erection dysfunction.

Changes in Hormone Levels With Age

Testosterone levels in men are highest between the ages of 20 to 30 years. Testosterone levels in men begin to fall from the age of 40 years, dropping about 3% per year. Unlike women, whose estrogen levels fall rapidly when they go through menopause, men’s testosterone levels fall much more gradually and over a longer period of time. Some men will experience a greater drop in these hormone levels. It is estimated that by the age of 65, up to 10% of men have very low testosterone levels and by the age of 70 years this figure rises to over 20%. The causes and extent of this problem in ageing men are unknown.

Low testosterone levels (androgen deficiency) can cause a range of symptoms such as tiredness, hot flushes, depression, decreased sex drive and thinning of bones or osteoporosis, which leads to an increased risk of fractures. It is difficult to predict low testosterone levels purely on the basis of symptoms. Research work is trying to find ways to identify older men who may be at risk of low testosterone levels.

A fall in testosterone can also be caused by ill health but those testosterone levels usually recover when the illness has passed. Also, a reduced ability of the testis to make testosterone, combined with a reduction in the production of the hormone LH by the pituitary gland, can lead to a lowering in serum testosterone levels in men as they age.

Changes in Erectile Function with Age

There is no doubt that the ageing penis has less responsive muscle cells, which interfere with a good erection. Like the rest of the ageing body, muscle tone in the penis reduces with age, as do many other aspects of sexual function. It can take longer for an aging man to get fully aroused. It may take him much longer before a second erection can occur and the erection is usually not as firm compared to younger men.

Can a Healthy Lifestyle Reduce Erectile Dysfunction?

It is known that diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can lead to erectile dysfunction. To reduce the chance of having erectile problems, having regular checks to detect and treat these problems is advisable.

Whilst not proven to prevent erectile dysfunction, health experts believe that keeping the heart healthy through regular exercise, eating a low cholesterol diet and not smoking, will help maintain good health and reduce the risk of developing erectile dysfunction or impotency problems.

Diagnosis

If you are experiencing erectile problems or erectile dysfunction, whether you want to have sex or not, you should see your doctor. In some instances, erectile dysfunction is a symptom of other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. The earlier these conditions are diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of preventing other medical problems. It is important to talk openly to a doctor about any problems associated with sexual functioning.

Many men experience episodes of erectile dysfunction that may be short-lived. These can often relate to stress, anxiety or a temporary illness. Normal sexual function returns once these problems disappear. If erectile problems continue, or if men are concerned about any other aspect of their health, speaking to a doctor is recommended.

Treatment

Can Sexual Dysfunction Be Cured?

Many sexual problems and specifically erectile problems cannot be cured but most can be treated. Sometimes the cause of erectile problems is identified quickly and direct treatment can help men restart their normal sexual activity.

Erectile dysfunction might suddenly occur if there has been a sudden psychological problem for the sufferer or after starting a new medication. In younger men, erectile dysfunction can be caused by a pelvic injury and surgery may be required to correct the problem.

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