Is there A Link Between Erectile Dysfunction (ED) And Heart Disease?
ED and heart disease have a strong link unfortunately! You might be surprised to learn just how connected these two conditions are. However, it's possible for patients to improve both their sexual and cardiovascular health with effective medical treatment.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can take its toll on men. Many patients find that the condition affects their relationships and brings on feelings of shame and embarrassment.
What patients don't realize that the ED isn't just indicative of one's sexual health. It can also be a warning sign of more serious problems — specifically, problems with the heart.
WHAT IS A HEALTHY ERECTION?
A healthy erection occurs when a penis goes from a flaccid state to an erect state that is suitable for sex.
For a man to achieve an erection, several things must happen. The process starts via stimulus from the brain and/or physical touch. This stimulus causes muscles in the penis to relax, triggering increased blood flow through the penile arteries. Two chambers (corpora cavernosa) fill with blood to cause the penis to grow rigid.
The erection ceases once the penis muscles contract and the penile veins carry blood out of the corpora cavernosa. For most men, this process happens naturally and without any voluntary effort. However, those with erectile dysfunction do not experience the same effortless process.
WHAT IS ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION?
Occasional failure to achieve an erection is relatively common. In some cases, there may not be enough blood flow to the penis due to factors such as heavy drinking or excessive fatigue.
However, it is abnormal for men to experience failure more than 50% of the time. These patients suffer from a condition called erectile dysfunction (ED). ED, sometimes called impotence, the consistent inability to achieve and maintain an erection suitable for sex. It can drastically impact one's sex life, confidence, and mental health.
One study suggests that ⅓ of all men suffer from ED. While the condition is most prevalent in the older population, it can affect men of any age.
WHAT CAUSES ED?
Even though the prevalence of ED increases with age, age is not a cause of ED. Rather, the condition stems from underlying issues (many of which happen to come about as we get older). Here's a look at some common causes:
Neurological diseases. When men suffer from brain or nerve conditions, the transmission of nerves between the brain and penis may not be as strong. As a result, patients with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease may have trouble achieving an erection.
Kidney disease. Due to hormonal imbalances and impacted blood flow, around 80% of male patients with chronic kidney disease suffer from ED.
Prostate cancer. Prostate cancer itself doesn't cause ED. However, treatment methods (such a radiation therapy) can cause erectile problems.
While these are all common causes of ED, by far the most common cause is vascular disease. Vascular disease affects the blood vessels, depriving the penis of the blood flow it needs to become erect. Here are some examples of vascular disease that can cause ED:-
Atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when factors such as smoking and poor diet cause damage to the endothelium. Fat and cholesterol start to build up, leading to the formation of plaque on artery walls.
High cholesterol.When the body has high levels of cholesterol, the substance can block our arteries and restrict blood flow to all parts of the body (including the penis).
Hypertension.Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension means that the blood is exerting too much force on the blood vessels. This excessive force hardens and narrows artery results, resulting in decreased blood flow.
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ED AND HEART DISEASE?
Knowing that heart disease can cause ED is crucial. Let's take a look at the progression of these conditions.
When you begin to develop heart disease, the condition affects your blood vessels. It causes plaque buildup or other kinds of damage that lead to restricted blood flow. This restricted blood flow isn't immediately obvious; rather, it gradually appears throughout different parts of the body.
Interestingly, it may affect the penis first because the penile arteries are much smaller than other arteries such as the coronary arteries. As the plaque buildup and/or blood vessel damage progress, the heart will become more directly affected.
So, when men notice ED that has no obvious cause such as trauma, they should see their doctor right away. A urologist will do an evaluation and recommend an appropriate course of treatment. They may refer the patient to a cardiologist to treat potential heart disease.
The good news is that symptoms of ED can precede heart problems by 3-5 years, giving patients the head start they need to prevent cardiovascular issues from getting worse.
Remember that just because you have erectile problems doesn't mean that your vascular health is at risk. However, the link is prevalent, so it's always better to be safe than sorry.
COMMON RISK FACTORS FOR ED AND HEART DISEASE
ED is more common among the older population. However, the idea that all older men are doomed to erectile problems is a myth. Even though they may require more stimulation and time between erections, these individuals should be able to have a normal sex life.
That's right — just like heart disease, ED can be avoidable. Seeing as the two conditions are so intertwined, they share many risk factors. Men can decrease their chances of suffering from ED and heart disease by avoiding the following:
Treating ED and heart disease is necessary if you want to maintain your sex life. The doctor will come up with a treatment plan based on test results. For instance, if the patient's anxiety and stress is causing their ER, the doctor may suggest counselling with a sex therapist. If the culprit is naturally low blood flow or nerve damage, the patient may need to take medications such as Viagra.
However, if the cause is heart disease, doctors must be extra careful when coming up with a treatment plan. ED medications such as Viagra can cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. While this isn't a big deal for men with healthy hearts, it can pose a risk to those with cardiovascular issues.
When prescribing ED medications to patients at risk for heart disease, doctors need to start with low doses. They also need to keep in mind that ED medications can interact poorly with other prescriptions their patients are taking.
One of the most important lifestyle changes a patient can make is to their diet. Doctors recommend limiting saturated fats, controlling portion sizes, and eating more fruits and veggies. Another simple yet effective way to improve heart health is being more active. By moving around and getting more exercise, patients can improve blood flow to all parts of the body. Men might even consider male kegel exercises to strengthen their pelvic floor.
For some patients, alternative treatments such as vacuum pumps, implants, and even surgery may be effective. However, it's important to realize that these treatments will only address ED. The patient will still be at risk for heart disease that led to the initial erectile issues.
ED AND HEART DISEASE - THE BOTTOM LINE
ED is a relatively common condition. Men of all ages face problems with achieving and maintaining an erection. And while ED can stem from many causes, decreased blood flow as the result of heart disease is one of the most common.
Although it might sound strange at first, the penis can be the window to the heart. If you are experiencing symptoms of ED, get in touch with a doctor. They can properly diagnose you and come up with an effective treatment plan. By being proactive, you will be putting both your sexual health and cardiovascular health first.