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Is Erectile Dysfunction A Sign Of Heart Disease?

Erectile Dysfunction A Sign Of Heart Disease

Erectile Dysfunction A Sign Of Heart Disease

Heart Healthy Habits To Improve Erectile Dysfunction

If you’re one of the 30 million Americans who suffer from erectile dysfunction, you might think that it's the type of issue that only impacts intimacy. But did you know that your heart is involved, too? Erectile dysfunction can actually be an early indicator of heart disease. Read on to learn how you can improve your sexual health by taking care of your heart.

Did you know that erectile dysfunction affects more than 30% of men between the ages of 40 and 70?1 From nerve problems to low testosterone, several factors can cause this condition. Certain medications and depression can also play a role. Yet, you might be surprised to learn that atherosclerosis is the most common cause. And while you might attribute atherosclerosis to cardiovascular disease, it turns out that it can impact more than your heart.2 So if you’re having problems in the bedroom, here’s why getting a heart check-up might be the answer.

The Connection Between Your Heart And Erectile Dysfunction

When you have atherosclerosis, your blood vessels can’t dilate properly, making it difficult for blood to flow through. It’s characterized by cholesterol build-up along the blood vessel walls and leads to the formation of plaque. This makes the blood vessels extremely narrow, slowing down blood flow. And when the flow is completely blocked, a heart attack can occur.

Atherosclerosis doesn’t just affect blood vessels that lead to the heart, though. It can impact the entire body. For example, when arteries in the brain are blocked, a stroke can occur. Another possibility is claudication, marked by leg pain due to atherosclerosis in the legs. And then there’s erectile dysfunction. In this case, the blood vessels supplying the penis can’t dilate when sexually stimulated. This means that the penis can’t fill with blood. As plaque builds up and atherosclerosis progresses, blood flow – and erectile dysfunction – becomes worse.

While atherosclerosis can affect people in different places, it usually impacts the penis first. Next, it can target the heart, brain, and legs, respectively. Therefore, erectile dysfunction can double as an early indication of heart disease. It might even serve as a warning that you’re at risk for a stroke or heart attack in the next 3 to 5 years.3

Get To The Heart Of Your Sexual Problems

Since erectile dysfunction often stems from the same condition that causes heart disease, it’s no surprise that many risk factors overlap. Examples include smoking, high blood pressure, unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, and obesity. Eliminating these risk factors may be the key to tackling erectile dysfunction, once and for all.4 Here’s how.

1. Get Moving

The trick to an active sex life may lie within an active lifestyle. A large study of over 30,000 men between the ages of 53 and 90 years found that frequent vigorous physical activity, equal to running at least 3 hours per week or playing tennis 5 hours per week, meant a 30% lower erectile dysfunction risk than with little or no exercise. This study also found that watching more than 20 hours of television per week can increase your risk of erectile dysfunction. Try your best to ditch the screen and get moving.5

Keep in mind that pelvic floor exercises may be another way to treat erectile dysfunction. One study even suggested it as the first line of defense for men facing the problem.6 A strong pelvic floor can improve rigidity during erections and stop blood from leaving the penis by exerting pressure on a particular vein (the deep dorsal vein).

2. Go Mediterranean With Your Diet

The famous heart-healthy Mediterranean diet can aid your sexual health, too. This diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and monounsaturated fats. It also limits red meat, sweets, and foods high in saturated fat. Amazingly enough, men who follow this dietary pattern have lower rates of erectile dysfunction. Even type 2 diabetics who follow this diet are less likely to have erectile dysfunction (and are more likely to be sexually active) compared to those who don’t.7 Furthermore, eating foods rich in vitamin B12 may also prevent erectile dysfunction.8 Think tuna, sardines, and milk.

3. Watch Your Weight

Your waistline can have a greater impact on your sex life than you think. According to the Harvard Health Publications, you are 50% more likely to have erectile dysfunction if you have a 42-inch waist compared to a 32-inch waist.9 Research also shows that men with a BMI (body mass index) higher than 28.7 are at 30% higher risk for erectile dysfunction than those with a normal BMI of 25.10 So what’s the deal exactly? Excess weight means bad news for your arteries. It can also mess with your hormone levels.11 Getting your weight under control through diet and exercise doesn’t just help your heart , it can benefit your sex life, too.

4. Turn Down The Pressure

Research shows that erectile dysfunction is more common in men with high blood pressure than in the general population.12 The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled by following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet developed by the National Institutes of Health. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat diary, fish, and poultry. It also limits foods that are high in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.13 Moreover, foods like chocolate14, pomegranate15, and oats16 have a reputation of lowering blood pressure.

5. Stop Smoking

Smoking may double your chances of moderate or complete erectile dysfunction. However, research has found that men who’ve quit smoking have the same risk as those who have never smoked. This means that the damage may be reversible, emphasizing that quitting smoking can have a powerful impact on your erectile dysfunction risk.17

Your Doubts Answered

Expert Opinion

Does Having Erectile Dysfunction Increase The Risk Of Getting Other Medical Issues?

No, it is the opposite—having medical issues increases the risk of getting erectile dysfunction. Importantly, ED can be a warning sign that an underlying medical problem exists. The quality of erections can serve as a barometer of cardiovascular health. The presence of rigid and durable erections is an indicator of overall cardiovascular health and, on the flip side, the presence of ED can be a clue to poor cardiovascular health. For this reason, men with ED should consider undergoing a basic medical evaluation seeking arterial disease elsewhere in the body (heart, brain, aorta, and peripheral blood vessels). Since the penile arteries are generally rather small (diameter of 1 to 2 millimeters) and the coronary (heart) arteries larger (4 millimeters), it stands to reason that if vascular disease is affecting the tiny penile arteries, it may affect the larger coronary arteries as well—if not now, then at some time in the future. In other words, the atherosclerotic plaque that compromises blood flow to the smaller vessels of the penis may also do so to the larger vessels of the heart and thus ED may be considered a genital “stress test.” The presence of ED is as much of a predictor of cardiovascular disease as is a strong family history of cardiac problems, tobacco smoking, or elevated cholesterol. The British cardiologist Graham Jackson expanded the initials ED to mean: Endothelial Dysfunction (endothelial cells being the type of cells that line the insides of arteries); Early Detection (of cardiovascular disease); and Early Death (if missed). The bottom line: Heart healthy is sexual healthy (and vice versa).

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 3. Cardiovascular Implications of Erectile Dysfunction, American Heart Association.
4. Feldman, Henry A., Catherine B. Johannes, Carol A. Derby, Ken P. Kleinman, Beth A. Mohr, Andre B. Araujo, and John B. McKinlay. “Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts male aging study.” Preventive medicine 30, no. 4 (2000): 328-338.
5. Bacon, Constance G., Murray A. Mittleman, Ichiro Kawachi, Edward Giovannucci, Dale B. Glasser, and Eric B. Rimm. “Sexual function in men older than 50 years of age: results from the health professionals follow-up study.” Annals of internal medicine 139, no. 3 (2003): 161-168.
6. Dorey, Grace, Mark J. Speakman, Roger CL Feneley, Annette Swinkels, and Christopher DR Dunn. “Pelvic floor exercises for erectile dysfunction.” BJU international 96, no. 4 (2005): 595-597.
7. Esposito, Katherine, Francesco Giugliano, Maria Ida Maiorino, and Dario Giugliano. “Dietary factors, Mediterranean diet and erectile dysfunction.” The journal of sexual medicine 7, no. 7 (2010): 2338-2345.
8, 9. 5 natural ways to overcome erectile dysfunction, Harvard Health Publications.
10. Esposito, Katherine, Francesco Giugliano, Carmen Di Palo, Giovanni Giugliano, Raffaele Marfella, Francesco D’Andrea, Massimo D’Armiento, and Dario Giugliano. “Effect of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction in obese men: a randomized controlled trial.” Jama 291, no. 24 (2004): 2978-2984.
11. Traish, Abdulmaged M., Robert J. Feeley, and Andre Guay. “Mechanisms of obesity and related pathologies: androgen deficiency and endothelial dysfunction may be the link between obesity and erectile dysfunction.” FEBS journal 276, no. 20 (2009): 5755-5767.
12. Burchardt, Martin, Tatjana Burchardt, Leslie Baer, Alexander J. Kiss, Rahul V. Pawar, Ahmad Shabsigh, A. L. E. X. A. N. D. R. E. DE LA Taile, Omar R. Hayek, and Ridwan Shabsigh. “Hypertension is associated with severe erectile dysfunction.” The Journal of urology 164, no. 4 (2000): 1188-1191.
13. Your Guide To Lowering Blood Pressure, National Institutes of Health.
14. Grassi, Davide, Giovambattista Desideri, Stefano Necozione, Cristina Lippi, Raffaele Casale, Giuliana Properzi, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, and Claudio Ferri. “Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate.” The Journal of nutrition 138, no. 9 (2008): 1671-1676.
15. Asgary, Sedigheh, Amirhossein Sahebkar, Mohammad Reza Afshani, Mahtab Keshvari, Shaghayegh Haghjooyjavanmard, and Mahmoud Rafieian‐Kopaei. “Clinical Evaluation of Blood Pressure Lowering, Endothelial Function Improving, Hypolipidemic and Anti‐Inflammatory Effects of Pomegranate Juice in Hypertensive Subjects.” Phytotherapy Research 28, no. 2 (2014): 193-199.
16. Keenan, Joseph M., Joel J. Pins, Christina Frazel, Antoinette Moran, and Lisa Turnquist. “Oat ingestion reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild or borderline hypertension: a pilot trial.” The Journal of family practice 51, no. 4 (2002): 369-369.
17. McVARY, Kevin T., Serge Carrier, and Hunter Wessells. “Smoking and erectile dysfunction: evidence based analysis.” The Journal of urology 166, no. 5 (2001): 1624-1632.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.