Covid could cause erectile dysfunction, doctors believe as the link between the two continues to grow.
Scientists already know the virus can damage blood vessels, restricting blood flow throughout the body.
Erections occur solely through blood flowing through small and narrow arteries that supply the genitals, so anything hampering this can lead to the problem.
Dozens of reports of infected men suffering from impotence have surfaced since the start of the pandemic. Several studies have also linked the virus itself to the medical condition.
Dr Ryan Berglund, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said Covid is already known to cause myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — in some cases.
Therefore, it is plausible that it could also cause erectile dysfunction.
But he said the evidence is ‘primarily anecdotal’ at the moment, so the scale of the problem is not clear and more studies are needed.
A doctor in the US said Covid could cause erectile dysfunction, with patients suffering from the condition after recovering from the virus
How could Covid cause erectile dysfunction?
Some doctors suspect that the coronavirus could lead to higher risk of men developing erectile dysfunction.
So far, their fears are based on anecdotal evidence from patients reporting erection problems after having the virus.
A few small-scale studies have also linked the condition, but doctors say more are needed.
One way Covid could lead to erectile dysfunction is through pneumonia.
Pneumonia can inflame the blood vessels, which can restrict blood flow.
Erections are purely caused by blood flow, so anything that harms this could have a knock-on effect.
Pneumonia can also damage people’s lungs, which can affect blood oxygen levels.
This can make it difficult for men to maintain an erection.
Covid could also infect testosterone-producing cells in the testicles called Leydig cells.
A drop in these cells can affect libido and desire.
Dr Emmanuele Jannini, professor of endocrinology and medical sexology at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, said reduced sense of smell could also be linked with erectile dysfunction.
Not being able to smell could prevent arousal, he said.
Dr Jannini said the link could even be linked to poor mental health, with the pandemic leading to higher stress levels.
This could stop men from getting aroused, he said.
Doctors also suggested lower oxygen levels in the blood, damage to testosterone-producing cells and pandemic-related stress could be responsible.
While one suggested a reduced sense of smell from a Covid infection by making men get less aroused.
One study in March found men who catch the virus are three times more likely to get erectile dysfunction, while another in May said men could take six months to recover.
Dr Berglund told the Los Angeles Times: ‘It’s the blood vessels themselves that can become inflamed, which could cause an obstructive phenomenon and negatively impact the ability to get erections’.
It is clear some Covid patients are suffering from inflamed blood vessels, which is not uncommon with other viral infections, he said.
Dr Berglund added: ‘It’s just that the scale of this viral infection and the severity of it have probably led to a higher incidence of vascular-related disease and vascular inflammatory disease than other viral infections.’
He said observational studies should be conducted of men with a similar age and health level to see if erectile dysfunction is more common in those who have had the virus.
He said erectile dysfunction after Covid could signal a person is also having heart problems related to the virus.
Dr Emmanuele Jannini, professor of endocrinology and medical sexology at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, told the newspaper the dysfunction could be a long-Covid symptom.
The umbrella term covers any Covid symptoms lasting over a month after infection, with difficulty breathing and tiredness thought to be the most common.
He said Covid patients who develop pneumonia may be at risk of erectile dysfunction, as the illness can also reduce blood oxygen levels.
This is well-known to lead to problems getting an erection, Dr Jannini said.
A loss of sense of smell – a well-known Covid symptom – could also restrict someone from becoming aroused, he said.
Dr Berglund said it could be the case that Covid harms testosterone-producing cells, but this link has not been proven.
Doctors have previously said Covid can bind to these cells and stop them from working normally, leaving men with lower testosterone levels.
Dr Berglund said Covid could also be indirectly to blame for other cases of erectile dysfunction.
Some people are more stressed because of the pandemic, especially if they have lost their job or are struggling with Covid restrictions. This could lead to men being less ‘in the mood’.
The doctors’ comments come after a study by doctors at the University of Rome found men who catch the virus are three times more likely to get erectile dysfunction.
Their study of 100 men, who had an average age of 33, found nine per cent of people who had not had Covid had erection problems.
But 28 per cent of men who had been infected with the coronavirus reported the problem.
Doctors at Miami University found SARS-CoV-2 in two mens’ penises six months after they recovered from the virus.
Dr Jannini said the possible link between the virus and erectile dysfunction is another reason for people to get vaccinated.