Is There a Connection Between Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Disease?

Is There a Connection Between Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Disease?

Yes, there is a strong link between erectile dysfunction (ED) and heart disease. The two conditions, while seemingly unrelated, have several overlapping risk factors, causes, and prevention strategies.

What is ED?

ED is the consistent inability to achieve and maintain an erection firm enough for satisfactory intercourse. A fairly prevalent condition, ED is estimated to affect 1 in 10 men at some point in their lifetime, occurring more often in men as they get older.

It is important to note that the occasional inability to get an erection (possibly due to fatigue, stress, or alcohol consumption) is not uncommon, and is not considered ED.   

What is heart disease?

Heart disease refers to several different conditions that affect the heart including coronary artery disease (CAD), heart arrhythmias, heart failure, heart valve disease, pericardial disease, heart muscle disease, and congenital heart disease.

The most common type of heart disease is CAD. CAD occurs when the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that bring oxygenated blood to the heart) become blocked or otherwise damaged and cannot supply enough blood to the heart. This condition often occurs as a result of an accumulation of plaque in the arteries and can cause severe chest pain or a heart attack.

What is the connection between ED and heart disease?

Because erections require healthy blood flow to the penis, when the body’s blood circulation system is compromised, a man may experience ED. Heart disease is also caused by blood circulation problems, so ED can be an early sign of current or future heart disease. Since ED can be an early indicator of CAD, men with ED may benefit from being screened for CAD. However, not all cases of ED are suggestive of future heart problems, because ED can also be caused by trauma to the penis or psychological or relational factors.

Historically, experts attributed the cause of coexisting ED and heart disease to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Now, medical researchers have found that the two conditions are more likely linked to endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the inner lining of the blood vessels (the endothelium) constricts and cannot properly dilate to allow for easy blood flow.

What are the common risk factors of ED and heart disease?

Heart disease and ED have several risk factors in common including:

  • Diabetes
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Low testosterone levels
  • Increasing age

How can a person prevent heart disease and ED?

Luckily, there are things that a person can do to reduce their risk of developing ED and heart disease. Since many of the risk factors for both conditions are related to behaviors a person has control over, lifestyle changes can go a long way toward preventing them or reducing their severity. For example, quitting smoking, losing weight, exercising more, and eating a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, and fish would all be beneficial. Individuals who are experiencing ED may consider speaking with a health care provider to determine the underlying cause and being screened for heart disease if the ED appears to be caused by vascular factors.




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