Erectile dysfunction- could it be an early sign of heart disease?
“Talk with your doctor about a broken sex life, and you might be able to prevent a broken heart” Dr Robert Kloner.
Erectile dysfunction — the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex — can be an early warning sign of current or future heart problems. The same process that creates heart disease may cause erectile dysfunction, only much sooner. Current research is looking closely at the causes and early warning signs of heart disease and there is a correlation between ED and heart disease.
How are ED and heart problems linked?
Previously the build up in arteries (atherosclerosis) was believed to be the reason why erectile dysfunction often preceded heart problems. The idea was that plaque build-up reduced blood flow in the penis, therefore making an erection very difficult.
However, experts now believe that erectile dysfunction preceding heart problems is more often due to the dysfunction of the inner lining of the blood vessels (endothelium) and smooth muscle. This “Endothelial dysfunction” causes inadequate blood supply to the heart and impaired blood flow to the penis, and aids in the development of atherosclerosis.
Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, Heart Institute, Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles, CA believes that sexual problems may indicate a broken heart..literally. He states: “Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years”.
Erectile dysfunction is very common as men age. Erectile dysfunction is frequently a sign of atherosclerosis, a clogging or narrowing of the blood vessels that causes heart attacks. Erectile dysfunction usually comes 3 to 5 years before a heart attack, so after ED is diagnosed, there is time to treat atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack. Treating atherosclerosis involves diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary. Erectile dysfunction may not always indicate an underlying heart problem. However, current research suggests that men with erectile dysfunction who have no obvious cause, such as trauma, and who have no symptoms of heart problems should be screened for heart disease before starting any treatment.
Besides sharing a common disease process, erectile dysfunction and heart disease also share many risk factors outlined below:
• Diabetes. Men who have diabetes are at high risk of erectile dysfunction and heart disease.
• Tobacco use. Smoking increases your risk of developing vascular disease and can cause erectile dysfunction.
• Alcohol Use. Drinking too much alcohol can cause heart disease and might contribute to other causes of heart disease, such as high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol. Alcohol also impairs erections.
• High blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure damages the lining of your arteries and accelerates the process of vascular disease. Certain high blood pressure medications, such as thiazide diuretics, can also affect sexual function.
• High cholesterol. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis.
• Age. As you get older, erections might take longer to develop and might not be as firm. The younger you are, the more likely that erectile dysfunction signals a risk of heart disease. Men younger than 50 are at especially high risk. In men older than 70, erectile dysfunction is much less likely to be a sign of heart disease.
• Obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors for heart disease.
• Low testosterone. Men with low testosterone have higher rates of erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease compared to men with normal testosterone levels.