If you have erectile dysfunction (ED), you may not realize that it puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease. Very common as men age, ED is often a sign of atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries—and that can lead to a heart attack.
ED affects more than 30 million men in this country between 40 and 70 years of age, so it’s important that you talk to your doctor if you think you have ED. The condition can be treated—as can atherosclerosis.
Although ED has several causes, including low testosterone and some medications, atherosclerosis is the most common reason. Cholesterol build up in the blood vessel walls causes the blood flow to slow down—and extra blood flow to the penis is essential to obtain and maintain an erection.
In the public’s mind, atherosclerosis is usually associated with heart attacks, but the condition is not confined to the arteries that supply the heart with blood. It affects the blood vessels throughout your body, including those in the penis, where the condition often shows up years before heart trouble does.
An Australian study of 95,000 men found that those with ED had more cardiovascular problems, including heart failure, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease, than men without ED. In fact, the medical editor of a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School called erections “a barometer for overall health” and ED an early warning sign of trouble in the heart or elsewhere.
What You Can Do About Atherosclerosis
The first step is to talk to your doctor about ED so you and your provider can work together to find out the cause.
If it’s atherosclerosis, you’ll get advice on your diet and exercise, the foundation of treating atherosclerosis. And if you smoke, quit or get help, as smoking contributes to atherosclerosis. If these self-help remedies are not enough, your doctor will prescribe medications.
As for your ED, the most common treatment in addition to lifestyle changes is one of the pills you see advertised on television. The medications help to dilate the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis. They are safe with most other drugs and blood pressure pills, but should not be taken with nitrate medications like nitroglycerin.
Another option is stenting if, in addition to ED, you have a blockage of the blood vessels in the pelvis supplying the buttocks, which also are the parent vessels to the penis. A blockage here typically causes more symptoms than just ED. Stenting can prevent the need for chronic medications.
Of course, ED doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have cardiovascular problems, but it’s a sign that it’s time to see your doctor. Getting help for your ED and starting to modify your cardio risk factors will pay off with good health years down the road.