Screening men with erectile dysfunction (ED) for traces of heart disease may help medical professionals reach low and intermediate risk groups that may not be concerned about their heart health. In a new study published in Vascular Medicine, a team of scientists reviewed and analyzed 28 different studies, assessing the connection between ED and heart disease.
ED is characterized as “male sexual dysfunction,” and men affected have difficulty initiating or maintaining an erection. ED becomes more common with age. It is also known to be a potential sign of blood vessel blockages or nerve damage from diabetes. While drugs to treat ED are available, doctors also recommend getting more exercise, losing weight, or not smoking.
The new study aimed to confirm ED’s role as a risk factor for heart disease, like smoking, having high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, or having a poor diet. ED has been associated with heart disease for a long time, and the two conditions share many of the same risk factors and underlying mechanisms.
Especially for younger men who are less likely than older men to think seriously about their heart health, identifying ED as a risk factor for heart disease could improve early detection to prevent dangerous events connected to heart disease, like heart attack and stroke.
In their analysis of the research on the connection between ED and heart disease, researchers found that ED was significantly associated with impaired endothelial function, a measure of how well blood vessels relax, a condition strongly connected to vascular disease.
They also linked ED with increased carotid intimal medial thickness (IMT), which is associated with the early stages of atherosclerosis. Scientists also looked at the link between ED and coronary artery calcium levels, but for now the results are inconclusive.
“Our study supports a more aggressive [heart disease] risk assessment and management for persons with erectile dysfunction, including young men who may otherwise be categorized as low risk due to their young ages,” the authors explained.