Can Long Covid really cause erectile dysfunction? And what can you do about it?

Over the last couple of years, scientists have been studying the long-term impact of Covid, ranging all the way from brain fog to chronic fatigue and organ damage.

But a new study has found that the virus may also target sexual function, specifically in the form of erectile dysfunction and general penis performance.

It’s important to note that the tests were carried out on monkeys, not humans, however, it does support other research linking Long Covid and ED.

This particular study found that, after being infected with Covid, the monkeys had remnants of the virus in their lungs, which isn’t particularly surprising. More surprisingly, the virus was lingering in the prostate, penis and testicles.

And, while the lung infection usually dissipates at around the two week mark, the infection in the testicles actually increased at this point. The blood vessels in genital region were also found the be damaged.

This could potentially explain why up to 20% of men with Long Covid suffer with problems related to impotence.

What is erectile dysfunction and how can Covid cause it?

‘Erectile Dysfunction is the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough to have sex,’ Dr Paul Ettlinger, GP at The London General Practice tells Metro.co.uk.

When discussing the link between Covid and erectile dysfunction, it’s important to understand the factors needed to initiate and maintain an erection.

According to Dr Ettlinger, these include: Good blood supply (both blood in, via the arteries, and blood out, via the veins – no venous leak), hormones (a good supply of testosterone), Neurological (in the form of a good nerve supply), and psychological factors.

However he points out that, in practice, it is not one factor which is at fault, it is usually a combination of all of them.

Dr Ettlinger confirms that there is a link between Long Covid and erectile dysfunction, but that the subject needs to be studied further.

‘A recent review article showed that the possible mechanism of the development of erectile dysfunction by Covid was endothelial dysfunction, direct testicular damage, and the psychological burden of having the virus,’ he continues.

‘Endothelial dysfunction is where the inner lining or wall of blood vessels stay stiff and do not expand and contract to allow blood flow.’

He says this affects how the blood is pumped and carried through the blood vessels – including the tissue in the penis. So, a disrupted blood supply to the penis makes it difficult to get or keep an erection.

‘Testicular damage can result following Covid infection,’ adds Dr Ettlinger. ‘The ACE2 gene (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) is a receptor of SARS-CoV-2 and this is abundant in the testes and the penis.

‘The virus can bind to these areas and thus affect the testes. This effect could harm testosterone production resulting in decreased sexual libido and erection.’

What other factors can cause erectile dysfunction?

As well as the physical impact of the virus on our bodies, there are lots of other associated factors that could be detrimental for erectile function.

‘The pandemic has resulted in added stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and increased alcohol intake,’ says Dr Ettlinger.

‘Erectile dysfunction has been shown to be 1.3 to 2.3 times more common in individuals with anxiety and depression.’

It has also been found that men who are at greatest risk for serious complications are also those traditionally at risk for erectile dysfunction.

This includes older adults, diabetics, men with cardiovascular disease, being overweight and obese, stroke cases and those with presence of two or more medical conditions or diseases.

‘Additionally, weight gain as a result of the pandemic could have compounding long range adverse effects on the risks for those with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease all of which are associated with erectile dysfunction,’ Dr Ettlinger says.

Neurological damage can also result in erectile dysfunction.

Studies have even suggested that erectile dysfunction could be used as a marker for Long Covid

‘It is also known that patients with Covid have neurological manifestations, both disorders of the central and peripheral nervous systems..

‘These effects will have negative impacts on erectile dysfunction.’

There is such a clear link, in fact, that studies have even suggested that erectile dysfunction could be used as a marker for Long Covid.

‘Studies are ongoing, but it is interesting to note that people infected with the virus were more than five times more likely to develop ED,’ he says.

‘In one small study researchers took penis tissue samples from two men who had been infected with Covid.

‘Both men had surgery for severe erectile dysfunction symptoms and scientists found Covid viral particles and endothelial dysfunction in the samples.’

Additionally, doctors have also warned that catching Covid can affect penis size, with one man claiming to lose 1.5inches from the length of his.

What to do if you think you’ve been affected?

Some of the most common signs that a man is suffering from ED include: difficulty in getting an erection, reduced sex drive, and difficulty in keeping an erection for a long time.

The impact on those affected can be huge.

‘Suffering with ED can result in a lack of self-confidence and feelings of low self-esteem and embarrassment and contribute to relationship problems,’ Dr Ettlinger tells Metro.co.uk.

‘It can lead to an unsatisfactory sex life and reduce the level of physical and emotional intimacy previously had. It can also cause the inability to get their partner pregnant and affect their overall quality of life.’

Anyone suffering with ED should not leave it untreated.

‘They should discuss the issue with their family doctor who would arrange appropriate investigation, treatment of any cause and prescribe medication if appropriate,’ he continues.

And, it’s not a simple fix with Viagra, as that only works if the person using it still has their sex drive, something that can be wiped out by ED.

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