Community Care urologist: Common, treatable erectile dysfunction may signal underlying health conditions

Dr. David Wilks, Community Care Network urologist


Erectile dysfunction. For millions of men in America, it’s the proverbial elephant in the room, embarrassing and difficult to discuss.

“We have made progress in getting men to discuss ED,” said Dr. David Wilks, a Community Care Network urologist at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart. “But some men are reluctant to talk about it, or worse, accept it as irreversible.” 

Make no mistake, it’s necessary to have the talk. On top of being a serious health issue by itself, ED is often a symptom of other health problems. Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem can be a result of or contribute to ED.

“With many men, ED is a symptom of an underlying issue,” Wilks explained. “That’s why it is so critical to see a health care professional and discover the root cause.”

Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which you cannot get or maintain an erection firm enough for satisfactory sexual intercourse. ED is sometimes called impotence, but health care professionals use this term less often to avoid confusion. ED affects about 30 million men in the United States.

Many physical and psychological factors contribute to ED. For example, you are more likely to develop ED if you are older, have high blood pressure, circulatory problems, or if you take medications for those conditions. Being overweight, smoking or excessive alcohol use can be factors. Lack of exercise plays a role, as do recreational drugs. In many instances, men suffering from a condition such as high blood pressure or circulation problems don’t know it until ED forces them to the doctor’s office.

ED also can be caused by fear of sexual failure, guilt about performance, or stress.

“Several of my patients have one issue, and the anxiety of recurrence results in a problem that really isn’t a problem,” Wilks said. “In their case, it’s a confidence issue.”

Medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and appetite suppressants, as well as treatments for ulcers and prostate cancer, can contribute to ED. 

“Many blood pressure medications can have side effects that include ED,” Wilks said. “Not everyone reacts the same way, which is why seeing a physician is important.”

Wilks stressed that almost every case of ED is treatable.

Even before visiting a doctor, some lifestyle changes can reduce ED. You can quit smoking, limit or stop drinking alcohol, increase physical activity, maintain a healthy body weight, and stop the use of recreational drugs. A health care professional also can help with these. 

“A complete physical should be conducted by your primary care physician to rule out potential issues like heart and kidney disease, as well as diabetes,” Wilks added. “If those type of issues are ruled out, the physician can prescribe ED medication.”

Viagra, Levitra, Staxyn, Cialis, or Stendra work by relaxing smooth muscles and increasing blood flow during sexual stimulation to help achieve and maintain an erection.

Wilks explained most ED issues are solved with these medications. “Patients come to me if those medicines don’t help,” he said. “Even then, there are several options that are noninvasive. Men shouldn’t feel they have no options.”