Most men will experience an episode of erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point due to a temporary cause like being sick, overindulging in alcohol, or simply being tired. However, for some, an episode might turn into frequent episodes and become disruptive to his relationship or peace of mind. As common as ED is, it can still be difficult to talk about.

The good news is that ED can often be treated successfully. But to treat it, you first need to find the cause. Hint: it may not be what you think.

Here are six facts about ED that might surprise you:

ED is not a normal part of aging

Many people think ED is an unavoidable part of aging, but it’s not. Older men may not be as easily aroused as when they were younger, but many men can continue to function sexually well into their senior years.

And although it is more common over the age of 75, ED doesn’t have to be in your future. In fact, there are lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your chances of developing ED. And if you do experience ED, there are a number of treatments now for men of any age. ED is no longer a taboo subject you just have to live with. But you do have to put aside your embarrassment and talk to your doctor about your history.

Lifestyle choices that affect ED

Certain lifestyle choices can decrease the likelihood of developing ED. A good rule of thumb is if it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your sexual health. Likewise, if it’s bad for your heart — like excessive drinking, being overweight, using drugs, and smoking — then it can contribute to health problems that can lead to ED. Your best bet for overall health, and optimal sexual health, is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, only drink in moderation, and don’t use drugs or tobacco at all.

ED can indicate a serious health problem

ED may seem like only a sexual problem, but it can actually be a signal that something else is going on. Serious illnesses like high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis can cause ED. So can low testosterone, stress, depression, and anxiety. The only way to know for sure is to talk to your doctor. In many cases, treating the underlying cause will improve your symptoms.

The mind-body connection

Healthy sex requires a healthy mind-body connection. Stress, anger, relationship issues and anything else that can affect your emotions can also affect your sexual health. A quick way to narrow down a possible emotional cause of ED is to notice if you wake up with an erection or have them in your sleep. If so, it’s more likely the cause of ED is emotional rather than physical. But that doesn’t make it any less important to seek treatment. Your doctor can help you pinpoint the exact cause and discuss possible treatment.

ED and dental health

You might be surprised to know that some studies have discovered a relationship between dental health and ED. They’ve found that men with periodontal disease are more likely to have ED than those with healthier teeth and gums. The exact relationship isn’t understood but may have to do with the inflammation caused by gum disease. Whatever the cause, you can’t go wrong taking good care of your teeth and gums.

The stress effect

ED can have a negative effect on your self-confidence and your relationship. And that, in turn, can lead to stress and worry. But the more you worry about ED, the worse it may get as stress can also cause ED. Stress management techniques or counseling can help break that cycle so you can focus on finding the cause.

Finding the cause of ED is the first step towards finding the right treatment. Depending on the cause and your health history, treatment might include lifestyle changes, counseling, medication, assistive devices, or surgery.

The important thing is to take that first step and talk to your doctor. Schedule an appointment today.