The Link Between Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Problems
Chris Regal | March 25, 2013 June 29, 2017
Reviewed by Jennifer Sobol, DO
According to a 1999 study, patients with heart disease are at an increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED). The researchers speculated that ED could be a product of atherosclerosis of the penile arteries, a reduced cardiac output, or that it could be a side effect of heart disease drugs. The study identified beta-blockers, thiazide diuretics, and occasionally lipid-lowering drugs as those with the biggest effect on sexual performance.
Using ED as a predictor
If doctors know ED can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, then they can use ED for prognostic utility. A 2012 study found ED is a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than other risk factors, including smoking and family history. Among men aged 40 to 49, new heart disease patients were 50 times more likely to have ED than not; among men over 70, this had fallen to only a five-fold increased risk for ED.
Endothelial dysfunction and ED
Endothelial dysfunction occurs when the inner lining of blood vessels becomes inflamed, which is closely linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A 2005 study found that ED may be closely linked to endothelial dysfunction, as blood vessels in the penis are narrower in diameter than anywhere else in the body, meaning blood flow is restricted sooner.
Sex after ED treatment
Some patients may express concern about whether sexual intercourse is safe from a cardiovascular point of view, even after ED has been treated. According to a 2004 study, erectile function can be restored in the vast majority of patients with minimal adverse effects, meaning sexual intercourse can be enjoyed without increased risk. Patients should be assessed by a doctor prior to engaging in sexual behavior.
Good news: ED medications are safe and effective even if a person has cardiovascular disease, according to a 2009 Mayo Clinic study. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are the most common medications to treat ED. They are generally considered safe for use. Of course, consult your doctor before taking any of these medications.
ED linked to early death
A 2013 study found ED is linked to heart disease and early death in men, both with and without a history of cardiovascular disease. Men with severe ED and without known heart disease had a 35 percent greater risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular problems and 93 percent higher chance of mortality than men without erectile problems.
Simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising more, or stopping smoking can help. It’s also important to manage your stress and to get enough sleep.