A normal penile erection is the result of complex interactions between the psyche, the central and peripheral nervous systems, hormones, blood vessels, and smooth muscles of the penis. A disruption at one or more of these levels may lead to erectile problems. Outside factors such as smoking, obesity, and the use of certain drugs or alcohol may also cause erectile dysfunction, or ED.
Any condition that affects the body's blood vessel network may lead to erectile dysfunction. High blood pressure and high cholesterol cause hardening of the arteries, including those of the penis. An inefficient heart, such as in congestive heart failure or after a heart attack, may also cause weak erections.
Endocrine imbalances may cause soft erections. Testosterone plays a major role in healthy erectile function and normal levels are essential for proper function. Erectile dysfunction can be a sign of elevated prolactin or thyroid hormone levels. Diminished thyroid hormone amounts also can cause weak erections. Diabetes is well known to cause erectile dysfunction. In fact, the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse notes that 35 to 50 percent of men with diabetes have accompanying ED.
Disorders of the nerves may cause soft erections. This occurs in multiple sclerosis and following stroke, for instance. At times, surgery for prostate or bladder issues may be complicated by nerve damage resulting in ED. Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease are examples of brain disorders that could cause erection difficulties. Spinal cord or pelvic injuries could damage structures important for normal erectile function.
Illicit drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs may all cause impotence. Marijuana, alcohol and heroin are listed by Family Practice Notebook as causes of erectile dysfunction. Many prescribed medications can also be implicated. Medicines for the treatment of high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and ulcers have been implicated. Anabolic steroids or antihistamines may cause soft erections, even in young, healthy males.
The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse states that up to 20 percent of erectile dysfunction cases are related to psychological factors. Stress and fatigue affect the mental state and can interfere with normal function. Soft erections may also be caused by depression, anxiety, poor self-image, guilt and fear of failure. Relationship issues, if not addressed in a healthy manner, can cause erectile abnormalities.
Peyronie disease is caused by an abnormality of the tissue of the penis. It results in scarring and inflammation of the penis. It is associated with a painful curvature of the penis and an abnormal erection.