Sexual Health Q&A

Erectile Dysfunction
Is there a link between COPD and erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Yes. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is considered a risk factor for erectile dysfunction (ED).

COPD is a group of illnesses that cause breathing problems, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, and a tight feeling in the chest. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD.

Research has shown a strong relationship between COPD and ED.

For example, a study published in 2016 by the Archives of Italian Urology and Andrology found a link between the two conditions. The researchers collected data from 66 men between the ages of 39 and 72. Almost 79% of the men had COPD and 83% had ED.

The researchers found that the severity of COPD corresponded with more severe ED. The worse the COPD, the more trouble men had with erections. Men who had urinary problems or nicotinism (caused by tobacco use) also tended to have more severe issues with erections.

Another study, published in 2013 in the journal Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine, reported the findings of Turkish researchers who compared the erectile function of two groups of men. The men’s ages ranged from 42 to 81. One group of 70 men had COPD. The other group, which included 68 men, did not.

ED was more common in the COPD group, with almost 80% of the men reporting problems with erections. For the men without COPD, the rate was 56%.

Almost half of the men with COPD also had depression, compared to 24% of the men without COPD.

The authors of the 2013 study explained that COPD can interfere with erections in a few ways:

Blood oxygen levels. In this study, the men with COPD had lower levels of blood oxygen. This means their blood wasn’t carrying the optimal amount of oxygen to different parts of the body.

Past research has shown that blood oxygen levels can affect erectile function. For example, one study found that ED became more common in healthy men when they traveled to higher altitudes. This occurred because the men’s blood oxygen levels decreased.

Improved oxygen delivery can improve a man’s erections. Some men use supplemental oxygen during sex, which might help with other sexual problems, too.

Depression and anxiety. As mentioned previously, the men with COPD in this study were more likely to be depressed. Psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety, can affect men’s erections, too. Men might worry that they aren’t healthy enough for sex. They might be concerned about a partner’s reaction to COPD-related sexual problems. They might also miss the type of sexual relationships they had before they were diagnosed with COPD.

Honest talks with a partner can help alleviate some of these issues. Partners are often accepting and open to adjustments. A couple may need to change their positions or the timing of their sexual activities, but working together, they can find what works best for them.

Men who are anxious about sex and their health should talk to their doctor, who can reassure them or offer strategies to make sex easier.

Counseling can also benefit men with depression or anxiety.

Conditions that accompany COPD. Some men with COPD also have other medical conditions associated with ED, such as obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes. Treating these issues and making healthy lifestyle choices, under a doctor’s care and guidance, might improve erections. A man’s doctor can provide the best individualized advice on staying healthy and managing these conditions along with COPD.

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