Having trouble with your erections? You are not alone as nearly 30 million American men suffer from this problem. That’s the bad news. The good news is that erectile dysfunction or ED may be harbinger of something more ominous that may affect your health and well-being. This blog will discuss the connection between ED and heart disease.
No man wants to be diagnosed with erectile dysfunction (ED), but believe it or not, it could save your life. In many cases, ED is a precursor to cardiovascular disease and when diagnosed properly could reduce the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
ED is the inability to obtain or sustain an erection. It is extremely common, affecting more than half of men over 60. Given our rising rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, there is a good chance that performance in the bedroom is not about emotional issues or the male anatomy itself. It may sound strange but the penis is the barometer of a man’s overall health.
You can imagine how a heart artery gets clogged in a person with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. When that coronary artery, which measures around 1\8 inch, gets obstructed that little to no blood flows through it, that man is going to experience chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. The same holds true for the carotid arteries, which measure 1\2 inch and take blood up to the brain. When the carotid artery gets blocked, that man will experience symptoms of a stroke. Now imagine the tiny penile artery, measuring only 1\16 inch. Its smaller diameter makes it ultra-sensitive to blockages, resulting in erectile dysfunction the penile artery becomes blocked.
Our entire vascular system is connected and the same things that harm our big blood vessels to our heart and brain will affect our smallest ones as well. The common cause of all this is what’s called atherosclerosis. As the same systemic process takes place throughout our vascular system, it’s these small arteries in the penis that will feel the effects earlier and manifest the symptoms of ED before other organs such as a man’s heart or brain start to suffer.
A lack of erections or difficulty holding an erection may be one of the earliest signs of impending heart disease or a stroke. When a man experiences ED this should an alarm should for men, their partners and their doctors. It’s important to realize that ED and cardiovascular disease have the same risk factors. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and excess weight. Realize, too, that all these risk factors are modifiable, meaning you can actually improve them to reverse or halt the damage that is being done.
The message is: the recognition of ED as a warning sign of silent vascular disease has led to the concept that a man with ED and no cardiac symptoms is a cardiac (or vascular) patient until proven otherwise. Studies show that men presenting with only mild ED have a significant amount of undiagnosed high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, among other things. This is why men with mild ED, particularly if they are younger than 50, need to be screened for cardiovascular risk factors and have those risks treated aggressively. This means a visit to a doctor, having an EKG, and a stress test to see if there any decrease in blood supply to the heart.
We’ve come a long way since the days when ED was something men kept to themselves, too embarrassed to discuss with their friends or doctor. The introduction of pills (Viagra, Cialis, Levitra) to treat ED over 15 years ago opened the door for conversations about the condition.
The good news that lifestyle changes to modify risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol level, obesity, and diabetes, that will provide the greatest benefit to a man’s overall health, not just his penis.
Bottom Line: ED can be a harbinger of impending heart disease or stroke. Don’t dismiss difficulty getting or holding an erection as this may indicate a future heart attack or stroke. See you doctor or urologist.