man clutching his chest


What’s the Link Between Heart Disease and Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get and keep an erection for long enough to have sex. While many men deal with ED occasionally, chronic erectile dysfunction is a problem that warrants a visit to a doctor.

There can be many causes of ED, both physical and psychological. Often, it is caused by a combination of factors (Learn More)

Some conditions that cause erectile dysfunction can be serious and might worsen with time, such as heart disease. Many people who have heart attacks or get bypass surgery have ED, which makes sense as heart disease can affect blood flow. (Learn More)

How well ED can predict heart disease is up for debate, but it is worthy of more research. One source proposes that it can be at least as valid a risk predictor as genetics or smoking. Like those things, ED does not guarantee one will suffer from heart disease, but it does mean a person must be wary and control what risks they can as best as possible. (Learn More)

Controlling erectile dysfunction caused by heart disease can sometimes be difficult. In some cases, a doctor may decide medication is not a viable route to take. ED medications can affect the heart, which is often not an acceptable risk for those with heart disease to take to treat a non-life-threatening condition like ED.

Have an honest and direct conversation with your doctor about your options, as some medications may still be available. (Learn More)

man with measuring tape around stomach

Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the incapacity to obtain and maintain an erection for long enough to have a satisfying sexual experience. Very occasional ED is not an especially uncommon occurrence, but getting it consistently enough that it is notably difficult to have sex is a sign of a problem.

As an ongoing issue, erectile dysfunction can cause embarrassment and strained relationships. It can also be a sign of an underlying and serious health condition, such as heart disease.

Heart disease is not the only cause of ED. It can also be caused by the following issues:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Clogged blood vessels
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Some medications, including illicit and recreational drugs
  • Peyronie’s disease
  • Sleep disorders
  • Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate
  • Surgeries or injuries of the pelvic area or spinal cord
  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions
  • Stress
  • Relationship problems

Oftentimes, ED is caused by a combination of factors. If you struggle with ED, see a doctor to figure out the root cause of the problem.

Treatment can increase your quality of life and self-confidence. It could even help you uncover a serious medical problem before it becomes a major issue.

Erectile Dysfunction’s Connections to Heart Disease

While not the exclusive cause of the issue, heart disease has strong links to ED.

During sexual arousal, the corpora cavernosa in the penis experiences increased blood flow, causing an erection. It therefore makes sense that you may have more difficulty getting and keeping an erection if there is a problem with your cardiovascular system and blood flow is abnormal.

One study showed 64 percent of men hospitalized for a heart attack have dealt with ED at least once. It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from this data, however. Erectile dysfunction is fairly common among men as they age, and heart disease is common in the United States.

Further studies into how the severity of ED correlates with heart disease are warranted.

Male doctor and erectile dysfunction concept.

Can Erectile Dysfunction Predict Heart Disease?

If 64 percent of men who have heart attacks have dealt with ED, in addition to 57 percent of men who have bypass surgery having ED at some point, it may be possible to predict that a man with ED will suffer from serious heart disease in the future.

It should be noted that having ED does not necessarily cause heart disease. Rather, heart disease you are unaware of (potentially because it has not yet reached a point where it is especially serious) could be the cause of ED. While there are many factors that can contribute to ED, it is worth trying to figure out the underlying causes of your ED for this reason. It may help to predict more serious health risks.

It has been suggested that having erectile dysfunction could indicate a man will have symptoms of heart disease within about five years. The Cleveland Clinic claims, with evidence, that erectile dysfunction is an equivalent risk factor for heart disease as smoking or a family history of the disease.

Controlling ED That Is Caused by Heart Disease

If a serious heart condition is also causing you to have erectile dysfunction, discuss your treatment options with a doctor. Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis) are all drugs that can help you get an erection by relaxing muscles and increasing blood flow to the penis.

At the same time, these drugs can affect the cardiovascular system. For example, there are a variety of conditions, including any history of heart attack, that are important to discuss with a doctor when a drug like Viagra is being considered.

In some cases, the health risk for ED treatments may not be worth it. While it can lower quality of life and may signal other serious issues, erectile dysfunction is not itself generally dangerous.

Medicine is largely about balancing the risks and benefits of treatment. Discuss which options are best for you with your doctor. They can help you manage your erectile dysfunction and lower your risk of heart disease.

References

Erectile Dysfunction: Symptoms & Causes. (March 9, 2018). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).

Erectile Dysfunction: Diagnosis & Treatment. (March 9, 2018). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).

Heart Disease & Erectile Dysfunction. (April 13, 2012). Cleveland Clinic.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED). University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority.

Viagra. Pfizer.