New Delhi:Regular stress can not just hamper your peace of mind, affect sleep and weaken your immunity, but prolonged periods of high stress and anxiety can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels, leading to erectile dysfunction (ED) which will hamper your sex life, experts have warned. ED is an inability to develop or maintain an erection during the sexual activity. It can have severe psychological consequences as it can limit your intimacy, affect your self-esteem and impact your most important relationship. "Stress can be responsible for ED. It affects the psychological state of mind where stimulation may not result in erection even if other things are normal," explained Dr. Vipin Tyagi, surgeon (Robotic and Kidney Transplant) at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. ED can happen to men at any age but the risk increases with age. The condition may also significantly increase the mental and emotional stress. Men often have a hard time coping with it. "While the stress and anxiety are understandable, men should not be hesitant to talk but make a conscious effort to address it. Speaking to someone - either their partner, a family member, a friend or a professional consultant about their condition may ease their stress," Dr. Rajeev Kumar, a urologist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Said. According to Dr. Ashish Sabharwal, a urologist with Fortis Escorts Hospital, common physical causes of ED includes cardiovascular diseases (CVD). And related conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome further increase the risk of ED. The condition becomes chronic if left unattended for several years but early diagnosis and right treatment can prevent serious side effects like diabetes or cardiovascular issues. Oral medications can successfully treat ED in most of the men. Medications can also be injected directly into the penis. According to experts, testosterone replacement may be needed if ED is caused by low levels of testosterone. "Hormone therapy or surgery can treat the physical causes of the problem and there are penis pumps and penile implants available that can help get an erection," Rajeev Kumar added. While a penis pump usually gets removed after an intercourse, a penile implant is more permanent and is inserted surgically into the penis. "In rare cases, vascular reconstructive surgery might be needed to improve blood flow to the penis," Rajeev Kumar stated. Eating food rich in flavonoids such as blueberries, cherries, blackberries, radishes, blackcurrants, apples, pears and citrus products trims down the risk of erectile dysfunction in men, especially in those under 70, a collaborative study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Britain and Harvard University in the US recently revealed. A combination of consuming flavonoid-rich foods with exercise can reduce the risk of ED by 21 percent, the researchers said. "Apart from the medicines, the most important thing is psychological counseling. ED can be the first indicator of many serious problems like diabetes mellitus , cholesterol or heart disease," Tyagi said. Erectile dysfunction can manifest in several ways. If you find that the time it takes for you to achieve an erection has increased significantly or you're having difficulty maintaining an erection long enough to have intercourse or the frequency of spontaneous erections has decreased, consult a doctor to check for ED. "Men should make it a point to visit a licensed andrologist or urologist to receive the right counselling and treatment instead of going to fake sexologists or traditional healers," Sabharwal pointed out. The bottom line is: Do not hesitate to meet your doctor early to avoid embarrassment in bed.