Which Sexually Transmitted Diseases Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
Everything comes with risk, including sex. Sex is good for your health. It strengthens relationships and has many psychological benefits. It does, however, come with risks. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), formerly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are viral or bacterial infections that can be transmitted through sexual contact. STDs are spread via unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
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Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two bacteria that infect the urethra. As the bacteria move up the urethra, they can also infect the prostate gland.
One potential cause of erectile dysfunction (ED) are infections of the prostate, the gland that surrounds the urethra. Inflammation of the prostate can reduce blood flow to the penis and cause pain, which can cause erectile dysfunction.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted bacterial infection. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems. Chlamydia can ascend the urethra and infect the prostate, causing prostatitis. Chronic inflammation of the prostate is not uncommon, affecting between 2.2% and 13.8% of men. Between one-third and one-half of men with prostatitis have ED.
Chlamydia often causes no symptoms or may cause symptoms that overlap with other STDs.
When symptoms occur in men, they may include:
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain or burning with urination
- Pain and swelling in the testicles
In men, untreated chlamydia can cause epididymitis, inflammation of the tube that carries sperm from the testes, chronic prostatitis, and ED.
Women may experience pain when urinating, abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, and spotting between menses. Untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease if the infection spreads to the uterus and fallopian tubes. Pelvic inflammatory disease can increase the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancies.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection, which means antibiotics are very effective for treating the infection. The recommended treatment is Doxycycline given twice daily for a week. Alternatives are a single dose of azithromycin or levofloxacin daily for a week. A chlamydia test involves taking a urine sample or a swab of the inside of the urethra and testing for the presence of the bacteria.
Anyone diagnosed with chlamydia should avoid all sexual contact for seven days after starting treatment. Any sexual partners must be notified and tested.
If chlamydia is the sole cause, treatment with antibiotics may be an effective cure for ED. However, it is possible to be reinfected with chlamydia if a sex partner is infected. Reinfection can increase inflammation and ED symptoms may return.
Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease. The bacterium Neisseria gonorrhea causes the infection. Gonorrhea is transmitted through oral, anal, or vaginal sex, frequently along with chlamydia.
Neisseria gonorrhea infects the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes in women and the urethra in both men and women. Neisseria gonorrhea can also infect the mouth, throat, eyes and rectum.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhea may not cause any symptoms early in the infection. About 90% of men with gonorrhea develop symptoms, as do half of women.
Once they occur, symptoms of gonorrhea in men may include:
- Painful urination
- Discharge from the penis
- Testicular swelling or pain
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Rectal pain or bleeding
Untreated gonorrhea can cause scarring of the urethra, a decrease in fertility due to localized infection in the penis, and inflammation of the epididymis, tubes that carry sperm from the testes.
Prostate inflammation from gonorrhea infections can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction.
Symptoms of gonorrhea in women, if they occur, may include:
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain or burning with urination
- Urinary frequency
- Changes in menstrual bleeding, either heavier or with spotting
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Rectal bleeding or pain
Untreated gonorrhea in women can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an inflammation of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause infertility and permanent damage to the reproductive system.
Antibiotics are a very effective treatment for gonorrhea. A single intramuscular shot of ceftriaxone, a single dose of an oral antibiotic, or a seven-day course of antibiotics are potential treatment options. A shot may be combined with an oral dose of antibiotics to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance.
STDs can only be prevented by abstinence. However, there are several ways to decrease the risk of STDs. These may include:
- Masturbation can be a healthy alternative to partnered sex to reduce the risk of STDs.
- Condoms and dental dams can be effective protection when used correctly and consistently.
- Discussing the risk of STDs openly with sex partners can reduce the risk of infection.
- Regular STD testing can help identify asymptomatic cases of STDs.
Although STDs can cause prostatitis and, therefore, ED. Vascular causes of ED are more common. Effective treatment options for ED include:
- Oral ED medications: Sildenafil (Viagra), Vardenafil (Levitra), Tadalafil (Cialis), and Avanafil (Stendra) are the first-line treatments for ED.
- Penile injectables: Trimix injections use three medications synergistically to improve blood flow into the penis.
- Vacuum devices: Vacuum devices work by putting a tube over the shaft of the penis and sealing it at the base.
- Surgery: Surgical options are available to treat scarring or to implant a penile prosthetic.
Often, ED symptoms can be improved by maintaining good physical, psychological, and cardiovascular health.
- Stop smoking. Nicotine and the other chemicals in cigarette smoke damage small blood vessels, a process that may become irreversible over time.
- Limit alcohol use. The research on the association between alcohol use and ED is contradictory. In small amounts, alcohol seems to help with performance anxiety and decrease stress. However, more than three drinks per day can lower testosterone level and affect libido.
- Avoid marijuana as it can affect the risk of ED, though more research is needed.
STDs, chlamydia and gonorrhea, can increase the risk of ED by causing inflammation of the prostate. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be asymptomatic, which makes them difficult to identify. Once identified, very effective treatment options are available. ED due to prostatitis is expected to resolve once the infection is treated, however, if it does not, consult the medical professionals at Invigor Medical to discuss diagnosis and treatment options for ED.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.