COVID-19 has been throwing us curveballs for more than two years but one impact is difficult to talk about for many people.
Research finds that people assigned male at birth face an increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction after having COVID. Many urologists want to get the word out, hopeful that increased awareness will lead to more willingness to get vaccinated.
Very early in the pandemic, there was some research linking erectile dysfunction to COVID infections. However, many doctors weren’t sure what to make of the link, as new information was still evolving. Now, more than two years later, and after hundreds of millions of infections worldwide, urologists want men to be aware they are seeing a problem.
Dr. Amarnath Rambhatla, the Director of Men’s Health at the Henry Ford Hospital Vattikuti Urology Institute, says they have definitely seen men coming into their clinic complaining of post-COVID erectile dysfunction (ED), and some have never had any evidence of ED prior to contracting COVID.
In fact, the problem has reached a level that a group of over 40 urologists from around the country, calling themselves “Urologists United for Vaccination Education”, created a public service announcement that uses humor to explain the risk.
In the PSA they say, “men who have COVID are 6 times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction.” Their website further states, “studies have shown that COVID can affect the blood vessels of the penis in a similar way that it affects the blood vessels of the lungs, preventing them from providing enough blood to the penis to cause an erection.”
Doctor Rambhatla, who is not affiliated with the group, agrees.
“There have been larger-scale studies that have showed about a 20% increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction after COVID,” Rambhatla said.
According to Rambhatla, the problem isn’t only affecting older men.
“We’re actually seeing it in a very wide age range seeing it in men starting in their 20s all the way to men in their 70s,” Rambhatla said.
While the exact cause is not known, there are many potential ways COVID could produce or worsen ED.
“We think this may be related to a few different reasons such as damage to blood vessels and nerves, low testosterone and also mental health well-being,” Rambhatla said.
One study suggests the virus could directly infect cells lining blood vessels, known as the endothelium, in the penis. Researchers were able to find virus particles in the penile endothelium of men that have had previous COVID infections and this is endothelium.
The long-term prognosis isn’t known because we only have two years of experience with this problem.
“We don’t have any long-term studies and we need studies to identify if this post-COVID ED is going to be short lived or if it’s a more permanent condition,” said Rambhatla.
But one thing is clear, avoiding COVID can help avoid the issue.
“Definitely, I’ve had some patients wish they were vaccinated for this very reason but unfortunately getting vaccinated afterwards may not help much,” Rambhatla said.
To be completely clear, while urologists are seeing an increase in ED among men who have had COVID, most men are not going to develop ED from COVID, and erectile dysfunction is far more likely to come from other chronic medical problems.
Regardless of whether you have had COVID if you have difficulty with an erection you should talk to your doctor.