Breathing issues, brain fog and a lingering loss of taste are just some of the long-term effects seen in coronavirus patients. Now, experts are warning that COVID-19 could also make it difficult to get an erection.
Experts in Italy and the US are warning of another potential long-term consequence of COVID-19: erectile dysfunction.
During a recent interview with the US broadcaster NBC, American physician Dena Grayson said there was growing concern that COVID-19 could cause long-term difficulty getting an erection.
“We know that it causes issues in the vasculature,” Grayson said. “So this is something that is of real concern — not just that this virus can kill, but can actually cause long-term, lifelong potential complications.”
A study out of Italy in July found that erectile dysfunction was both a risk factor for COVID-19 pneumonia and also a “likely consequence” of the disease for survivors, making it a “worrying phenomenon” among elderly patients in particular.
“Erectile dysfunction is a perfect biomarker of general physical and psychological health,” said the study’s lead author, Emmanuele Jannini, professor of endocrinology and medical sexology at the Tor Vergata University of Rome. As COVID-19 affects both mental and physical well-being, he said, erectile dysfunction is not necessarily a surprising consequence of the disease.
People infected with coronavirus who have previously suffered erectile dysfunction may also be more prone to developing COVID-19 pneumonia, according to Jannini.
That’s because pneumonia entails the same comorbidities that are often associated with erectile dysfunction, he said, including respiratory difficulties, inflammation, hormonal issues, stress, anxiety, depression and endothelial dysfunction — or when the lining of the small arteries constricts.
“Erectile dysfunction is a bona fide marker of risk for pneumonia from coronavirus. But it is not necessarily a risk factor for getting the infection, that remains to be seen,” Jannini said.
Damage to blood vessels a cause for concern
Erectile dysfunction occurs when blood flow to the penis is limited — the causes of which can be complex and varied, both physiological and psychological. Many different factors affecting the cardiovascular system, nervous system and endocrine system can cause or contribute to issues with getting an erection.
One risk factor that stands out for coronavirus patients is the damage done to the vascular and respiratory systems.