Causes of Erectile Dysfunction: Circulatory Problems

Erections require four systems to be in good working order. Erectile dysfunction can begin in an area of the body quite removed from the penis. This article briefly describes causes for ED related to poor blood flow.

Circulation - Your heart and blood vessels

ED can be the result of circulation problems. In fact, ED may be an early warning sign of heart disease. If you already have cardiac risk as well as ED, getting proper care for your heart and arteries may help with ED. Here are common risk factors that contribute to poor circulation function, and therefore to ED:

  • "Hardening of the arteries" (atherosclerosis) means build-up of plaques in the arteries in different areas of the body. When this causes arteries to narrow and harden, blood flow is reduced. The arteries in the penis are very small, so one of the first symptoms of clogged arteries may be ED.
  • Diabetes may lead to restricted blood flow, with increased likelihood of conditions like heart disease, ED and other circulatory problems.
  • Obesity increases the chances of both heart disease and ED.
  • High levels of "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) correlate with atherosclerosis.
  • High blood pressure, if left untreated, may damage the lining of arteries, thus greater risk of atherosclerosis.
  • A family history of heart disease may point to an increased risk for circulatory problems and ED.
  • Smoking cigarettes affects erectile function in two ways, since it can lead to atherosclerosis, and the chemicals associated with nicotine interfere with erections.
  • Depression as a cause of ED may be more than an emotional or mental condition. It may be a red flag that cardiac or circulatory function is diminished.


Not all circulation-related ED is the result of heart problems. Injury or trauma to the pelvis or penis can damage the blood vessels necessary for erections. This may include surgery to pelvic structures such as the prostate, bladder, colon or rectal area.

Finally, some men have the opposite problem. Instead of not being able to get blood INTO the penis, they are unable to KEEP it there. This is due to blood emptying back into the veins too soon due to lack of adequate compression, and is called "venous leak" (leaking veins). Up to 25% of men with ED have this problem to some degree.

If you have mild to moderate ED, and have not had a recent physical exam or cardiac evaluation, consult with your doctor. It is wise to identify the source of ED, especially because early intervention in a possible circulatory or cardiac problem can add years to your life and improve vitality in your sex life.