How ED and Heart Disease May Be Linked
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common condition that affects upwards of 30% of men over the age of 40. It is the inability to achieve or sufficiently maintain an erection during sexual intercourse. While seemingly ubiquitous advertisements tout medical treatments for the symptoms of ED, they do not address the underlying condition(s) that often cause this problem. Indeed, ED can be a very serious sign of underlying cardiovascular disease – far more than the embarrassing inconvenience that most men consider it to be.
The connection between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease is significant. We know that loss of erectile function often precedes heart problems and many men with diagnosed heart disease experience ED. Both conditions share similar risk factors, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, leading a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, stress, and type-2 diabetes. Further, studies have shown that certain heart medications like statins improve male sexual function. All of this shows us that the two conditions are inextricably linked.
Here Are Some Interesting Facts About Ed and Cardiovascular Disease
Some reports have shown that ED precedes heart disease in about 2/3 of cases. Interestingly, further data show that the average delay between the onset of ED and cardiovascular disease was about two to three years. Three to five years was the time interval between ED and a significant cardiovascular event like stroke or heart attack. These time frames do not guarantee when heart disease will occur but illustrate the correlation.
Why Might ED Be a Precursor to Cardiovascular Disease?
Erectile function relies on blood flow and the ability for blood to efficiently enter the penis to create an erection. Compromised blood flow is usually caused by plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. This is also the leading cause of significant heart disease. However, it is theorized that because the penile artery is only one to two millimeters wide while the coronary artery is 3 to 4 millimeters wide, the penile artery would be blocked sooner, causing ED. Once more plaque accumulates, the coronary artery could be next, followed by the carotid and the femoral.
Is ED a Cardiovascular Disease?
We often think about precursors to cardiovascular disease like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. If left untreated, these conditions lead to more severe heart problems. But should a person suffering from ED be considered to have heart disease? The answer may, surprisingly, be yes. It would certainly benefit any patients suffering from ED to speak to a cardiologist and understand if they may have atherosclerosis or risk of cardiovascular disease.
First, patients must take ED seriously. If they are having problems maintaining an erection, they should visit their primary care physician and men’s health specialist to understand the possible causes of the dysfunction. These causes can range from psychological impediments to medication therapy and, as we have mentioned, atherosclerosis. If all other reasons have been ruled out, we may be able to catch arterial issues early and offer appropriate treatment to slow or stop the progression of heart disease.
Of course, the first step is knowledge and diagnosis, so we encourage you to schedule a consultation with one of our cardiologists. Working alongside your men’s health specialist and primary care physician, we can comprehensively diagnose and treat the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction if they are indeed related to your cardiovascular health.
- Jackson G. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Arab J Urol. 2013 Sep;11(3):212-6. doi: 10.1016/j.aju.2013.03.003. Epub 2013 May 3. PMID: 26558084; PMCID: PMC4442980.