Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Disease: What’s the Connection?

Your relationship with your loved one is a matter of the heart–metaphorically, but it can also be a matter of your literal physical heart. If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, not only is your romantic heart feeling frustrated, but your physical heart may be experiencing distress, as well. Erectile dysfunction is not solely a sex issue–it can actually be a symptom of a much more complicated condition like heart disease. The connection between erectile dysfunction and heart disease may not seem obvious, so you may not suspect something more dire could be at play. That is why it is always important to seek out a doctor’s help when experiencing a new symptom such as erectile dysfunction. But what exactly is the connection between erectile dysfunction and heart disease, anyway?

How Erections Work

When a man has an erection, what is physically happening is that his nervous system sends a message of excitement from the brain that relaxes the muscles of the penis. Blood then rushes to the penile area through blood vessels and fills the space created by the relaxed muscles, causing the penis to enlarge. If blood is not able to fill the penis the way it is supposed to, an erection cannot properly occur.

ED: A Vascular Problem

Considering increased blood flow is needed in order for an erection to occur, any blockage to that blood flow will make erections more difficult or even impossible without removing the blockages. For a long time, ED was considered to be an arterial issue due to build-up of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. While atherosclerosis is definitely a problem, scientists and medical experts now feel that problems with the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, is frequently the culprit in ED that comes before heart disease.

How Erectile Dysfunction Can Be a Warning Sign for Heart Disease

The arteries in the penis are actually smaller than the ones in your heart. That’s often why a man who has clogged arteries will experience trouble with having an erection before he experiences actual heart trouble–it takes less to clog the arteries in his penis than to clog his coronary arteries. While ED can occur for a variety of reasons, one study published by the NIH found that around 50% of men with coronary artery disease (CAD) also experienced erectile dysfunction, and that, in another study, 67% percent of patients with CAD and ED experienced ED for about three years before CAD developed. These results show a strong correlation between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease.

While experiencing erectile dysfunction does not mean a person will definitely develop heart disease, the risk is high enough for it to be important for a man suffering from ED to be screened for heart disease just to make sure his coronary health is in order. This is especially the case for a man who is young or who has no other risk factors for ED such as diabetes, hormonal imbalances, or depression.

Are You Doomed to a Future of Heart Disease?

If you have been worked up for heart disease after experiencing ED and your doctor finds that you have the beginning stages of a heart condition, does this mean you are doomed to a future of heart issues? Definitely not! While you may always have to be more careful about your heart health, you can prevent more serious complications such as heart attack and stroke by staying on top of your overall health, especially in areas that affect heart function. For example, with the guidance of your doctor, you may have to cut out certain kinds of foods or eat a particular diet in order to maintain a healthier heart and clear your arteries. There may be certain medications you need to take for a period of time. Though there is a strong connection between erectile dysfunction and heart disease, it doesn’t mean that you are forever doomed once you have an ED diagnosis.

As long as you remain in close contact with your doctor and follow the medical plan set out for you, you will have a good chance of avoiding the more frightening complications of heart disease, and your ED may get better, as well. ED clinics like Apex Health Center offer specific treatments for ED and will help you on your way to treating the underlying cause of your ED, too. The most important thing is to not let embarrassment or shame cause you to ignore this significant symptom so that you can get the help you need for both your long-term health and for your immediate physical and romantic wellbeing.

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