The Little Blue Pill
Viagra has come under scrutiny lately with a study showing that it may be associated with an increased risk of developing melanoma. Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or maintain an erection, affects more than 18 million men over the age of 20. It’s well known that men don’t typically like to go to the doctor, let alone discuss their genitourinary health. This can leave many men with ED undiagnosed and untreated.
In my experience, many male patients presenting with ED will usually ask for a prescription of Viagra, without wanting to disclose any further information. What many people don’t realize, is that erectile dysfunction is not an “Oh by the way” kind of diagnosis, and can be a sign of serious underlying disease in the body.
Erections and Erectile Dysfunction
Erections occur when blood flow in the penis increases as a result of penile nerve stimulation. Smoking, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are just a few things that can affect blood vessels and/or nerves, in turn affecting the ability to have an erection. Hormone imbalances, increasing age, depression and certain drugs (SSRIs) can also cause erectile dysfunction. Nowadays with the increased prevalence of some of the causes mentioned above, it’s no wonder why so many men are affected by ED.
Phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra dilate blood vessels, allowing blood flow to increase in the penis. What these medications don’t do, however, is work on the underlying causes mentioned above. Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 cause of death in Americans. It is caused by smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension; all which can be reversed with simple lifestyle changes. A healthy diet, exercise, managing stress and not smoking, will not only decrease the risk for heart attacks and stroke, but will also contribute to a healthier sex life. Many young men with depression are also faced with ED and treating depression will also improve overall quality of life as well.
The “little blue pill” like most pills, won’t fix things. Pills are a tool in the healing process, which also have risks and side effects associated with them. With any disease, it’s important to not only identify and treat the underlying cause, but to find out the deeper reasons causing an individual to engage in unhealthy habits in the first place.
Don’t suffer in silence
If you or a loved one has erectile dysfunction, make sure to bring it up to a healthcare professional. It’s less about the ability to perform sexually, as it is a sign that something more serious could be going on. If you can intervene sooner rather than later, it may be enough to prevent permanent damage. Doctors are here to help, and the only way we can do this is if we talk about it.