Oh man. It seems like every other time we turn around there’s new insight about coronavirus.
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That’s because even a year into the pandemic, we’re still learning about the virus’s long-term effects. Research is shedding light on the repercussions of the virus on our bodies as a whole, but also on men’s sexual and reproductive health.
Researchers are piecing together that surviving COVID-19 may be associated with erectile dysfunction (ED). The research points to three factors that can lead to the potential onset of ED in men who have had the virus:
- Vascular effects. Erectile function is a predictor of heart disease, so we know that the vascular system and reproductive system are connected. We also know that COVID-19 can cause hyperinflammation throughout the body, especially in the heart and surrounding muscles. Blood supply to the penis can become blocked or narrowed as a result of a new or worsened vascular condition caused by the virus.
- Psychological impact. Sexual activity is closely associated with mental health. The stress, anxiety and depression caused by the virus and pandemic can be linked to sexual dysfunction and poor mood.
- Overall health deterioration. ED is typically a symptom of an underlying problem. Men with poor health are at greater risk for developing ED and also for having a severe reaction to COVID-19. Since the virus can cause a plethora of health issues, general poor health is cause for concern both for ED and other complications.
“Erectile dysfunction can be a marker of overall health,” explains urologist Ryan Berglund, MD. “So particularly for young and healthy people who abruptly develop erectile dysfunction, and especially after having COVID-19, this can be a sign of something more serious going on.”
Another cause for concern regarding the research is the potential testicular damage that can occur following an infection with COVID-19. It’s too early to tell if the damage is permanent, temporary or if it can affect fertility. Age is also an important aspect to consider, as it’s a risk factor for developing both ED and a severe case of COVID-19.
“There have been studies showing that perhaps there are cardiovascular effects and other medical effects appearing from COVID-19, but the answer is that it’s just too early to tell what exactly all of the long-term effects are,” says Dr. Berglund. “We know there are a number of different ways that the virus could cause erectile dysfunction, but much more research is needed before we know for sure.”
We’re still learning about the long-term damage the virus can cause
Dr. Berglund says that we’re only starting to understand the long-term complications that the virus can cause, including: blood clots, neurological issues, damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys and now, negative consequences to men’s sexual and reproductive health. Many patients also suffer with symptoms for months, referred to as long-haulers, despite having prior good health.
“This study is another important example of not knowing enough about the long-term effects of the virus,” says Dr. Berglund. “Time and more research are needed until we have a better understanding.”
That’s why it’s so important to continue to follow safety guidelines, get vaccinated when you’re eligible and protect those around you.