JUN 12, 2018 07:49 AM PDT

What Erectile Dysfunction Means for Your Heart

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a marker of heart disease risk, even if the person affected has healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, doesn’t smoke, and maintains a healthy lifestyle. From the American Heart Association, researchers describe a new study that provides the strongest evidence yet that ED suggests elevated risk of heart disease.

ED, defined as the “inability to achieve or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual intercourse,” affects 20 percent of men over 20 years old. Experts specify that although developing ED is more common as a person gets older, ED is not a normal part of aging. In addition to being in indicator of poor heart health, ED can be a result of diabetic nerve damage.

Risk factors ED shares with heart disease include obesity, hypertension, smoking, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. ED is now included in the UK’s risk-scoring algorithm that calculates a person’s 10-year risk for heart disease.

Often advertised are medications that can be prescribed to treat ED. These drugs, known as phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, increase the flow of blood to the penis, which helps cause an erection. Concentration of blood in the penis gives it the “rigidity it needs for sex.”

"Our findings suggest that clinicians should perform further targeted screening in men with erectile dysfunction, regardless of other cardiac risk factors and should consider managing any other risk factors - such as high blood pressure or cholesterol - that much more aggressively,” explained senior investigator Michael Blaha, MD, MPH.

In a new four-year study researchers analyzed data from nearly two thousand men ages 60 to 78. They found that those with ED were twice as likely to experience heart attack, cardiac arrest, sudden cardiac death, and strokes. To learn more about the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest, click here.

"The onset of ED should prompt men to seek comprehensive cardiovascular risk evaluation from a preventive cardiologist," Blaha said. "It is incredible how many men avoid the doctor and ignore early signs of cardiovascular disease, but present for the first time with a chief complaint of ED. This is a wonderful opportunity to identify otherwise undetected high-risk cases."

The present study was published in the journal Cardiology.

Sources: MedlinePlus.gov, International Society for Sexual Medicine, American Heart Association

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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