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Medical Conditions that Can Cause Sexual Problems

Medical conditions that cause persistent pain or fatigue, bad habits, such as alcohol abuse, as well as emotional factors, such as depression or stress, can diminish sexual desire or impair sexual function. As we grow older, many of us develop some condition that can induce sexual problems. Although these health problems usually do not mean the end of one’s sexual life, certain behavioral changes or some kind of therapy may be needed. The most common illnesses and unhealthy habits that can cause problems with sexuality include:

Arthritis is one of the most common conditions in people over 40. Some individuals resort to taking pain medications before making love or experiment with new positions that minimize pain in affected joints. Combining rest, exercise and warm baths may also help. But, no matter what remedy you choose, do not give up lovemaking. Sex is a potent analgesic, because during arousal and orgasm, the body releases its own natural pain relievers called endorphins.

Diabetes. The likelihood of developing diabetes grows with age. Although most patients have no sexual problems, diabetes is one of the few conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction. This illness can restrict blood flow to the penis and thus inflict irreversible nerve damage. In most cases, medical treatment can help improve erections in people with diabetes.

Heart disease. It is common for people who have experienced a heart attack to be afraid of having sex again, as it could cause another attack. However, this risk is actually very low, as fewer than 1% of sudden coronary deaths occur during sexual intercourse. Although almost everyone can have sex the way they did before a heart attack, it is recommended to check with your doctor. Always talk to your doctor if you experience chest pain during sex.

High Blood Pressure. Antihypertensives, the drugs used to treat high blood pressure, are by far the most frequent cause of medication-related sexual problems, specifically in older men. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of such nonmedical treatments as exercising, losing weight, reducing stress and limiting salt intake. If you do require medication, ask if you can start with an ACE inhibitor or calcium channel-blocker, which are less likely to cause sexual side effects than some other high blood pressure medications.

Incontinence is yet another common condition in older adults that may affect sex life. Though it can be very embarrassing, the good news is that the problem is almost always treatable.

Stroke. Patients who have suffered a stroke rarely experience impaired sexual function and it is unlikely that sex will cause another stroke. Trying different positions or medical devices can help deal with any weakness or paralysis.

Surgery. Surgical procedures such as hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), mastectomy (removal of all or part of the breast tissue) or radical prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland) can affect sexual life in some patients. However, hysterectomy and mastectomy should not have any physical effect on a woman’s sexual functioning. Nonetheless, if your ability to enjoy sex after the procedure is somehow impaired, talk to your doctor. If impotence occurs in patients who underwent radical prostatectomy, they should discuss with their doctor the possibility of a penile implant.

Alcoholism. Alcohol in higher doses reduces potency in men and delays orgasm in women. Heavy drinking is toxic to both the male and female sex glands, called the testes and the ovaries. Studies have found that 80% of male heavy drinkers develop loss of sex drive, erectile problems or sterility whereas 60% of female alcoholics have trouble becoming sexually aroused and experience impaired orgasms. Research also shows that women do not desire or enjoy sex when their partners have been drinking.

Drug Abuse. Although the short-term sexual effects of the recreational drugs may vary, long-term use of amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana can cause progressive loss of sexual appetite and impair sexual function, such as an ability to reach erection or ejaculation for men and orgasm for women.

Heavy Smoking. Studies indicate that smoking can have harmful effects on male sexuality. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, narrowing the small blood vessels in the penis, hence restricting the blood supply and thus inhibiting erections. The damage can be in some cases reversed simply by not smoking.