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Can COVID-19 Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

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Key Takeaways

  • While COVID-19 initially presents as a respiratory illness, it has wide-reaching effects.
  • Many urologists report that vascular damage can lead to erectile dysfunction.

As COVID-19 has swept the world, researchers and doctors have primarily thought of it as a respiratory virus. Even its clinical name—severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)—addresses its most pressing impact: breathing. But doctors are finding that side effects can include vascular problems as well, including erectile dysfunction (ED).

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

In the most basic terms, erectile dysfunction is a problem of inadequate blood flow to the penis. What may seem like a simple problem can have complicated origins, from psychological causes to drug interactions to vascular issues. And the problem may be exacerbated by other contributing factors, says Chris Kyle, MD, MPH, urology advisor to Giddy, a sexual health and wellness company.

"Physical comorbidities, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and hypertension all can have symptoms that include ED," Kyle tesll Verywell via email. "As for psychological issues, depression and anxiety can both make achieving an erection difficult."

Erectile Dysfunction and COVID-19

There are currently no major studies proving that ED is a direct effect of COVID-19, but severe vascular damage has been studied as a direct result. In fact, COVID-related pulmonary and cardiovascular symptoms can sometimes be hard to distinguish from each other.

Judson Brandeis, MD, founder of BrandeisMD Male Rejuvenation Center, says that since COVID-19 can impact the vascular system, moderate to severe cases could cause ED.

"It is not the virus itself, but your body's reaction to the virus that causes the vascular injury that leads to erectile dysfunction," he tells Veywell via email. "The massive inflammatory response your body creates to eliminate the virus damages the inner lining of your blood vessels, leading to blood clots and clogged blood vessels that compromise the blood flow to the penis."

Brandeis says cardiovascular drug therapies can be effective when treating COVID-19.

"There are also studies showing that medications like aspirin that thin the blood are beneficial to treating COVID, and studies showing that anti-inflammatory medications like dexamethasone improve the clinical course of COVID," he says.

In addition to vascular issues, the stress, anxiety, and potential depression spurred by the overall pandemic could make any existing issues with ED worse. Many patients have reported increased anxiety levels and a rise in depression levels due to isolation necessitated by the virus.

While ED can affect men of any age, it is most common in older adults who experience conditions that can make COVID-19 worse, such as obesity, diabetes, or hypertension.

According to Brandeis, people who have severe cases of COVID-19 are more likely to experience ED.

"The more severe the immune response to COVID, the higher the likelihood of blood vessel damage," he says.

What This Means For You

Although there seems to be an anecdotal link between COVID-19 and ED, there is no guarantee that patients will develop ED due to contracting the virus. The intensity of the virus is still varies significantly from patient to patient.

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  1. Fried Justin A., Ramasubbu Kumudha, Bhatt Reema, et al. The variety of cardiovascular presentations of covid-19Circulation. 2020;141(23):1930-1936.