Difficulty with sexual arousal, specifically erectile dysfunction (ED), is common in people with MS. Mechanisms underlying MS-related ED involve both physical and psychological factors.
Sexual arousal starts in the central nervous system (CNS) when the brain sends messages to the sexual organs via the spinal cord. In MS, nerve damage can mean this pathway becomes blocked, affecting arousal and orgasm.
This could explain why some people with MS experience ED. However, the areas of the CNS that MS affects can vary, and not everyone with the condition has the same symptoms. Other factors could also be responsible for a person’s ED.
This article examines how MS can lead to issues with sexual arousal, specifically ED, and the treatment options available.
Yes, MS can cause ED for some people. There are many potential underlying reasons for this:
Nerve signal interference
ED in MS can occur due to various factors impacting the nervous system. One of the primary mechanisms through which this may happen is the interruption or impairment of the nerve pathways involved in the sexual response.
The complex process of getting and maintaining an erection involves a delicate balance of neurological signals, blood flow regulation, and hormonal interactions.
For an erection to occur, the brain must signal the muscles of the penis to relax. This allows for an increase of blood to flow to the two chambers on the underside of the penis. The blood causes the penis to swell and become hard.
In MS, the disrupted nerve pathways can interfere with the transmission of signals and hormones from the brain to the genital area, affecting the mechanisms responsible for engorgement and rigidity of the penis.
In addition to neurological factors, the physical symptoms of MS can also contribute to sexual issues. Physical symptoms include:
These symptoms can affect a person’s physical ability to engage in sexual activity and can impact the rigidity and duration of erections.
The psychosocial impact of living with a chronic and unpredictable condition such as MS can lead to effects on mental health, including:
These can further contribute to sexual difficulties.
According to the United Kingdom’s Multiple Sclerosis Society, ED affects around 7 in 10 males with MS. However, the exact prevalence may vary depending on several factors, including:
- the duration and severity of MS
- having other health conditions
As the condition progresses, the risk of developing ED may also increase. The psychological effects of living with a chronic condition such as MS can also contribute to the prevalence of ED.
Effects that MS can have on sexual arousal may significantly impact a person’s overall quality of life and psychological well-being, potentially affecting the following aspects:
Addressing these effects in MS requires a multidimensional approach. Healthcare professionals need to create a safe and supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their sexual concerns. Open and nonjudgmental discussions allow for assessment and understanding of the specific effects people are experiencing.
By actively assessing ED and issues with sexual arousal, healthcare professionals can identify the underlying causes, whether physical, psychological, neurological, or a combination of all three.
Comprehensive evaluation helps them develop personalized treatment plans targeting each individual’s needs and challenges.
Diagnosing ED in people with MS involves a comprehensive evaluation by a doctor.
Since ED can have various underlying causes, it is essential to determine the specific factors contributing to the sexual difficulties an individual with MS is experiencing.
A doctor will likely assess the following:
- medications the person is taking
- their physical MS symptoms
- mental and emotional well-being — for example, checking for signs of mood disorders or low self-esteem
Doctors will need to develop a personalized treatment approach for ED in MS.
Medications may be beneficial for some, and options can include:
These drugs work by improving blood flow into the penis and increasing the erectile response following manual or mental stimulation.
Can a person take Viagra if they have MS?
Since MS is a complex condition, it is important for anyone considering taking Viagra to speak with their doctor first. It may not help everyone with ED.
When someone cannot use a medication safely, procedures and devices may be another option. For example, some devices consist of plastic tubes that a person places over the penis and a hand pump that creates vacuum pressure.
This promotes blood flow into the penis, facilitating an erection. To sustain the erection, the person places a ring around the base of the penis.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common issue with multiple sclerosis (MS). The neurological disruptions and damage caused by MS can interfere with the nerve signals necessary for getting and maintaining an erection. Physical symptoms and psychological factors, such as stress and depression, can also contribute.
Assessing and treating issues with sexual arousal in MS can be crucial for some people, as it can significantly impact their quality of life and psychological well-being. Treatment options include medications and devices.
Seeking guidance from healthcare professionals specializing in neurology, urology, or sexual health can help individuals with MS effectively manage ED, potentially leading to enhanced sexual well-being.