Erectile Dysfunction & Heart Health
Men, you’re probably well aware that the occasional difficulty achieving an erection can happen to guys of any age.
You yourself may have experienced this due to, say, work stress, drinking, lack of sleep or even an argument with your partner. We understand if you feel that it’s a private concern—one that you might rather not talk about. That said, if erection problems are becoming common and are interfering with your sex life on a regular basis, we urge you to speak with your doctor without delay. Though the connection may not immediately come to mind, ongoing issues with erections may be a sign of underlying heart health issues.
A growing body of research has established erectile dysfunction (ED) as a risk factor for heart disease. In one study of nearly 100,000 Australian men who had no history of cardiovascular disease, for example, those with severe ED were 60 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease, the most common cause of heart attacks, than men without ED.
They were also more likely to have other cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure, and to die prematurely.
The Blood Flow Equation
It may not surprise you to learn that the connection between ED and heart health is as simple as blood flow. To get an erection, the penile artery has to fill up with blood. If it’s unable to do that, it’s one of the most direct indicators that there’s compromised flow in the body, likely due to hypertension or excessive plaque buildup in the arteries, or atherosclerosis.
Erection problems may therefore be a warning sign that your cardiovascular system isn’t functioning well. In fact, ED can be one of the earliest signs of cardiac disease. (Diabetes could also be a likely culprit, due to the impact it has on small blood vessels and nerves.) Paying attention to those signs and beginning a comprehensive wellness program to improve your heart health may improve your sexual functioning and far more.
Your Doctor's Detective Work
Starting that program, of course, begins with a visit to your physician. When talking with your doctor about ED, it may be helpful to remember that this is a health issue like any other—one that affects as many as 30 million American men. Several factors can play into it, including age, prescription medication use, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, physical injury, neurological conditions and drug or alcohol abuse. So, your doctor may start there, asking you questions and screening you to determine if any of these causes apply to you.
Given ED’s ties to poor cardiovascular health, your doctor should then take a look at risk factors for heart disease, including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension) and smoking.
Your case may be influenced by one or several of these contributors, and the best course of action for you to take will depend on them.
While sexual function may be restored with prescription ED medications, these don’t address the underlying causes of the condition, which—again—are often cardiovascular. Your doctor will want to rule out concerns like undiagnosed hypertension or prediabetes before offering a pill. That’s why stress testing, an electro- or echocardiogram and a lipid panel test may all be part of a medical workup for ED.
Lifestyle Changes for ED
If your heart health does appear to be involved in your ED, you can start to work with your doctor to reduce your cardiovascular risks. Many of the lifestyle actions that improve heart health, such as regular exercise, can also prevent and treat ED. It’s important to lower cholesterol, improve the functioning of the inner lining of your blood vessels (known as the endothelium), reduce inflammation and get weight down. Often, with that kind of healthy-heart program, men see the added benefit of improvements in ED.
Like many medical conditions, the earlier you identify ED, the better the chance that an integrated wellness program can reduce your risks and improve your health. The first step in addressing ED is not to be afraid to discuss it with your doctor.