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Men's Health

A Healthy Heart Can Help Prevent Erectile Dysfunction

Since the commercial success of drugs such as Viagra and Cialis, more men feel comfortable talking with their doctors about erectile dysfunction (ED). That's particularly good news for their hearts. Research has shown that ED may be a harbinger of future heart problems.

Photo of man running on trail

A common malady among men

ED is the inability to have or maintain an erection. It affects nearly 30 million men in the U.S. Older men are more likely to suffer from ED, but it isn't a normal part of aging. In fact, ED has many possible - but often treatable - causes, including diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, alcohol use, stress, and certain prescription medications.

One of the most common causes of ED, though, is atherosclerosis - a clogging or narrowing of the arteries. This condition occurs when cholesterol builds up in the arteries and forms plaque along the artery walls. The plaque limits blood flow throughout the body, including the penis. Too little blood to the arteries in the penis may result in ED. A gradual buildup of plaque throughout the body may eventually obstruct blood flow to the heart, leading to a heart attack.

An early warning sign of heart problems

If you suffer from ED, your doctor may initially suspect atherosclerosis. ED may be the first sign of this heart problem, possibly because arteries in the penis are smaller than other arteries in the body. They are often affected first by limited blood flow from plaque buildup. Some experts even believe ED may predict a stroke or heart attack within the next three to five years.

Ongoing research suggests ED may be a risk factor for overall heart health. A review of 12 studies on ED and cardiovascular disease found that men with ED were 46 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease and 35 percent more likely to suffer a stroke. Another study, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that men with type 2 diabetes and ED faced a higher risk for heart problems in general. The risk for cardiovascular disease may also increase along with the severity of ED, according to a recent study in PLOS Medicine.

It isn't clear whether doctors can use ED by itself to predict future heart problems. Some experts believe ED is tied to other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, being overweight, or having high blood pressure. More research is needed to determine ED's role in heart health.

Regardless, men can help prevent both ED and heart problems through similar lifestyle changes, such as eating a low-fat diet and exercising more. In fact, those steps are often the first treatments recommended for ED. If such measures don't work, a doctor may prescribe an oral medication or discuss another treatment option.

Are you or a loved one struggling with erectile dysfunction? Click here to learn more about dealing with the condition. 

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information. 

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse - Erectile Dysfunction

Urology Care Foundation - Erectile Dysfunction

March 2013

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