Adult male discusses health concerns like heart conditions and erectile dysfunction with his primary care physician.

Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Disease: The Missing Link



Many people still see erectile dysfunction (ED) as just a sexual issue. However, the condition can be a warning sign for more serious health issues. ED affects the quality of life of more than half of males over the age of 60. And researchers have found that erectile dysfunction can warn of a more serious health concern. 

Is erectile dysfunction a warning sign for more serious health problems?

An erection occurs when extra blood flow to your penis causes the blood vessels to swell. Anything that hinders the blood flow makes an erection challenging to get or maintain. Atherosclerosis is a common condition in which your arteries become hardened or clogged, affecting smaller blood vessels like those in the penis. As a result of this condition, ED can be a warning sign of heart disease. A four-year study found that men with erectile dysfunction experienced twice the number of cardiovascular-related events than men without ED. 

What are the risk factors for erectile dysfunction and heart disease?

There are common risk factors between heart disease and erectile dysfunction, including:

  • Age. As a man’s age increases, so do the risks of ED and heart disease. However, being diagnosed with erectile dysfunction under 50 can be an evident sign of underlying heart problems. 
  • High Blood Pressure. Extended periods of high blood pressure can damage the lining of arteries and interfere with blood flow. This interference affects how well you can maintain an erection. 
  • Smoking. Tobacco smoking causes direct toxicity to blood cells and increases the risk of atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty material on artery walls. 
  • Obesity. Since obesity is linked to other risk factors like diabetes, atherosclerosis, and circulation problems, it is a strong predictor of erectile dysfunction. Research also notes that obese men with erectile dysfunction have more significant impairment in endothelial function than non-obese men.
  • Depression. Anxiety and depression are independent factors for both ED and heart disease. Men with sexual dysfunction and severe symptoms of depression have a higher risk of cardiovascular events. 

When should men see a doctor if they’re experiencing symptoms of erectile dysfunction?

While it may be challenging to discuss difficult topics like erectile dysfunction with your doctor, this discussion can be crucial to learn if heart disease is responsible for your ED. If you begin to notice difficulty maintaining an erection, schedule an appointment with a urologist, especially if you see this pattern for about six months.

What treatment options are there for erectile dysfunction and related diseases?

There are two main treatment options for erectile dysfunction and underlying conditions: prescribed medication and lifestyle changes. Recommended lifestyle changes include a change in diet, increased physical activity to lose excess weight, and less drinking and smoking. Remember, an early diagnosis of any condition is the best treatment option, so don’t hesitate to contact your urologist.

If you are concerned about erectile dysfunction and heart disease symptoms, now's the time to schedule a visit with one of our experienced urologists or reach out to our cardiovascular team. Our physicians are also available for televisits, so you can get quality advice from the comfort of your own home.

Sources: 

Healthline | ED and Heart Disease

NCBI | Erectile Dysfunction and Ischaemic Heart Disease

American Heart Association | Erectile dysfunction may be warning sign for more serious health problems

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