What Medical Conditions Can Affect Your Sex Life?

If you have a chronic medical condition it may be affecting your sex life. Health and sexual function are intimately linked. Low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and other sexual problems will happen to many men at some point in their lives.

Key takeaways:
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    Physical health affects sexual function. Many medical conditions and medications can cause sexual dysfunction.
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    Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are significant causes of male sexual dysfunction.
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    Improving your overall health can improve sexual dysfunction.

A number of medical conditions and medications can cause or contribute to sexual dysfunction, including many common chronic conditions. Fortunately, treating underlying causes of sexual problems can improve your health and your sex life.

Overview/background

Sexual dysfunction, difficulty having or enjoying sex, is a very common problem. Research shows that 20-30% of adult men and 40-45% of adult women likely deal with one or more types of sexual dysfunction on a regular basis. Sex involves both the mind and the body, so both psychological problems and physical medical conditions (as well as some medications) can contribute to sexual dysfunction. For men, any condition that affects blood flow to the penis or nerve function in the groin can cause one or more types of sexual dysfunction. Sexual problems are sometimes the first symptom of an underlying condition that people experience.

Heart and blood vessel disease

Proper blood flow is essential to have an erection, not just to engorge the penis with blood, but also to circulate hormones that are needed for sexual function. Cardiovascular diseases affect the heart and blood vessels, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, and other conditions. High blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries caused by atherosclerosis are common underlying causes of cardiovascular diseases and can themselves cause sexual dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is commonly linked to problems that affect normal blood flow to the penis.

Diabetes

Research has found that more than half of men with diabetes have sexual dysfunction. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause high blood sugar levels that lead to damage throughout the body and can cause erectile dysfunction, low sex drive, and ejaculation problems. Diabetes damages small blood vessels in the extremities (including the penis), leading to nerve damage. Treatment for diabetes involves controlling blood sugar levels through diet and medication. Research has also shown that testosterone therapy can improve sexual function in some men with type 2 diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome

If you have three or more of the following conditions: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, low HDL (good) cholesterol, and a large waist size, then you have metabolic syndrome. People with metabolic syndrome are at high risk for developing coronary artery disease, stroke, and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome on its own can lead to erectile dysfunction as well as other sexual problems caused by diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting proper exercise can help prevent metabolic syndrome, decreasing the risk of serious medical problems and sexual dysfunction.

Mental health

Mental health problems and the medications that treat them can lead to erectile dysfunction and ejaculation problems. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health conditions affect brain function and mood; they can also interfere with interpersonal relationships, including sexual relationships. To make matters worse, psychiatric medications affect the brain and therefore can affect sexual function. Fortunately, side effects vary between drugs, so you may be able to switch to a medication that is effective with fewer side effects.

Hormones

Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that affect a variety of functions, including sexual function. Low testosterone levels and either high or low thyroid hormone levels can cause sexual dysfunction.

Testosterone levels in men decrease with age, but if they are too low they can cause a low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or delayed ejaculation. Low testosterone levels (male hypogonadism) can also lead to decreased energy levels and the loss of bone and muscle mass. This can be caused by problems with the testes, the hypothalamus or pituitary gland in the brain, hormone therapy, or obesity and is treated with testosterone replacement therapy using prescription medications.

The thyroid is a gland in the neck that produces thyroid hormones involved in metabolism and other body functions. Thyroid disease can cause either high (hyperthyroidism) or low (hypothyroidism) levels of thyroid hormones and lead to a vast number of symptoms, including erectile dysfunction and ejaculation problems. Research suggests that most men with thyroid problems have some sort of sexual dysfunction. Thyroid disease has many possible causes, but treatment involves restoring normal thyroid hormone levels through medication and by addressing the underlying cause.

Injury, trauma, and surgery

Another cause of male sexual dysfunction is physical damage to the penis, testes, or nerves and blood vessels that affect the groin. Accidents (including head trauma and spinal cord injury), illnesses (such as mumps and Peyronie’s disease), radiation (for cancer treatment), and surgery involving the groin or pelvis can all cause sexual dysfunction. In many of these cases the damage cannot be undone, but that does not mean that sexual dysfunction cannot be treated.

Medications

The list of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can cause male sexual dysfunction as a side effect is far too long to list here. Many drugs can cause erectile dysfunction as well as premature or delayed ejaculation and low sex drive. Many antidepressants can cause delayed ejaculation (or treat premature ejaculation) and heart and blood pressure medicines often cause erectile dysfunction. Additionally, opioids and various illicit drugs can also negatively affect sexual performance. Medications for everything from nausea to Parkinson’s disease can impair sexual function. If you are experiencing sexual problems and you take medication you should talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider about whether or not the medicines you take could be contributing to your problems. Changing medications or adding additional treatments may improve sexual dysfunction. Remember, you should never stop taking prescribed medication without first talking with your healthcare provider.

Improving your health can improve your sex life

Physical health and mental health affect sexual health. Sexual dysfunction can be caused by a wide array of medical conditions as well as numerous medications. In fact, sexual dysfunction may be the first sign of a serious underlying condition. Treating these conditions is the first step to improve sexual function.

The laundry list of things that can cause sexual problems is overwhelming, but so is the list of ways to treat those issues. The fact that so many serious conditions can cause sexual dysfunction makes it important to seek treatment for sexual problems. Don’t ignore sexual problems, they are health problems. Improving your overall health by losing excess weight and body fat and lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol can improve sexual dysfunction and overall health. In other words, better health can lead to better sex.

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