tired man with ED and heart diseaseMany still regard erectile dysfunction as only a sexual issue, but evidence has found that it is much more than that. There is a link between ED and heart disease and as has been reported in several studies; for many men ED may be one of the first signs of cardiovascular problems. 

One such study was conducted in 2005 by the Department of Urology and Andrology in Donauspital, Vienna, Austria. It concluded that moderate to severe ED was associated with a much higher risk for heart disease or stroke within a period of 10 years.

ED and Your Heart

An erection is the result of extra blood flow to the penis that fills and swells the blood vessels. Any time that there is interference in the blood’s ability to flow freely through the vessels, an erection will be difficult to get or maintain. This is what happens when heart disease causes clogging or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and the reason why erectile dysfunction is a sign of cardiovascular disease.

The small blood vessels and arteries in the body, such as those in the penis, are often affected by atherosclerosis.

Risk Factors

Erectile dysfunction and heart disease share many of the same risk factors:

  • Diabetes.  A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2008 concluded that the presence of ED in men with type 2 diabetes and without obvious cardiovascular disease predicted coronary heart disease. Diabetics are at increased risk of heart disease and have a three times higher risk of ED than non-diabetics.
  • High blood pressure. When blood pressure is high for an extended period of time, it can damage the lining of your arteries and interfere with proper blood flow. A 2012 study by researchers from the Department of Physiology, Georgia Health Sciences University, in Augusta, Georgia found that approximately 30 percent of men with hypertension complain of ED.
  • Smoking. Smoking damages your arteries and increases the risk of atherosclerosis. Tobacco use has also been linked to issues with getting an erection. A 2006 study of 8367 Australian men aged 16 to 59 years found a significant association between current smoking and erectile dysfunction.
  • Obesity/Overweight. Carrying excess weight is linked to heart disease, circulation problems, atherosclerosis, and sexual dysfunction.
  • High cholesterol. High cholesterol can cause damage to the arteries, clogging them and restricting blood flow, contributing to ED as well as heart disease. 
  • Being under the age of 50. According to the Mayo Clinic, erectile dysfunction in this age group is more likely to signal underlying heart problems.
  • Depression. Depression has been linked to erectile dysfunction and heart disease. A 2010 study of men with erectile dysfunction performed by researchers from the University of Florence-Andrology Unit, Department of Clinical Physiopathology in Florence, Italy, found that those with severe symptoms of depression had an increased risk of cardiovascular events.

What You Can Do

Though bringing up erectile dysfunction may not be easy, speaking to your doctor about it is crucial in order to determine whether cardiovascular disease is responsible for your ED. An early diagnosis means getting the treatment that you need to manage your heart disease and ED.

Some of the prescription medications for erectile dysfunction are not recommended for those taking nitrates for coronary disease. Your doctor may prescribe a different type of medication along with some lifestyle changes that can improve your ED and help to keep your heart’s health in check. Changes to your diet, increased activity, and quitting smoking and alcohol consumption can help to limit the damage to blood vessels and arteries for better heart health and improved sexual function.