Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Health: What You Need to Know

November 21,2023 |
man talking to his doctor

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition that is assumed to affect over 325 million men worldwide by 2025. While it's commonly associated with difficulties in achieving and maintaining an erection, ED can also serve as a critical indicator of your overall health, particularly when it comes to your heart. Here, we'll go over everything you need to know about erectile dysfunction and heart health.

What is Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?

Erectile dysfunction is a medical condition characterized by the consistent inability to achieve and maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. While most men will experience some degree of sexual dysfunction during their lives, which is completely normal, ED can become a cause for concern if it happens regularly. Various factors can contribute to the development of ED, including psychological, physical, and lifestyle-related factors.

The brain plays a crucial role in initiating the cascade of events that result in an erection. When mental or emotional issues interfere with this process, ED may occur. Some psychological things that can cause erectile dysfunction include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship issues

    The body can also affect the events necessary to keep an erection. Some potential physical causes for ED that aren't necessarily a sign of heart disease include:

  • Peyronie's disease
  • Injury from treatments after prostate cancer
  • Nerve damage caused by priapism
  • Injury to the spinal cord, penis, prostate, bladder, or pelvic
  • Bladder cancer surgery

    Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important to ensure your erection is firm enough for sex. Therefore, erectile dysfunction can easily occur in certain situations or with unhealthy habits. Some of the most common include:

  • Being intoxicated
  • Using certain medications
  • Taking illegal drugs
  • Smoking
  • Long-term use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco

    One of the best ways to improve sexual function is to lead a healthy lifestyle and reduce controllable, independent risk factors such as unhealthy habits. If you're struggling with substance abuse issues, talk to your doctor today.

    What is Endothelial Dysfunction?

    The endothelium is the thin layer of cells lining the interior of blood vessels, and it plays a pivotal role in regulating vascular health. When the endothelium becomes dysfunctional, it fails to properly control factors such as blood flow, clot formation, and inflammation. Basically, this makes it so blood vessels can't dilate well enough for a strong blood flow to the heart.

    Endothelial dysfunction is closely associated with atherosclerosis. The early stages of atherosclerosis often involve damage to the endothelium. As a result, the endothelium loses its ability to produce nitric oxide, a molecule essential for relaxing and dilating blood vessels. Nitric oxide production is another link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease.

    What is Atherosclerosis?

    Atherosclerosis is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition that involves the buildup of plaque—fatty deposits, cholesterol, and other substances—on the walls of arteries. Over time, the plaque hardens and causes the arteries to narrow. This reduces blood flow to essential organs and tissues.

    While this condition most commonly affects the coronary arteries supplying the heart, it can also impact arteries throughout the body, leading to various health problems.

    Atherosclerosis plays a significant role in the link between ED and heart health. When the arteries supplying the genital region become affected, they can restrict blood flow to the penis, making it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection.

    How is Heart Disease Related to ED?

    Erectile dysfunction and heart disease are closely related, and the link between the two has been studied for years. It's often been thought that atherosclerosis was the reason why problems getting an erection were seen as cardiovascular risk, but today, many experts believe it's due to endothelial dysfunction. This is something that happens before atherosclerosis, as the heart isn't getting enough blood supply, which causes impaired blood flow to the penis and other parts of the body.

    However, while there is a correlation between the two, ED does not always predate cardiovascular events. Similarly, just because you struggle with sexual function on occasion does not always mean you're at risk of heart disease. Some things, like trauma or other underlying conditions, can make erectile function difficult.

    Common Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Disease

    Some of the most common risk factors for ED that also include risk factors for coronary heart disease include the following:

  • Age
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Blood vessel disease
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol Used
  • Low Testosterone

    If you have any of the above ED or cardiovascular risk factors, it's important to see your doctor to undergo screenings and discuss proactive men's health options. Lifestyle changes can make a huge difference in both sexual health and vascular health, so the sooner you address manageable issues, the better.

    ED as an Early Warning Sign of Heart Disease

    According to a study done by the American Heart Association (AHA), men with ED experience a two-fold increase in heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular death beyond traditional risk factors compared to men without ED. They found that this proved erectile dysfunction to be a primary symptom and risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This should prompt men with erectile dysfunction to seek medical attention and undergo a screening for cardiovascular health.

    Treating Erectile Dysfunction

    Treatment for erectile dysfunction depends on the underlying causes and preferences. Some things that are used to treat ED include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Smoking cessation
  • Limiting alcohol and recreational drug use
  • Psychological counseling
  • Oral medications such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and avanafil (Stendra)
  • Alprostadil injections
  • Testosterone replacement therapy
  • Vacuum erection devices (VED)
  • Penile implants
  • Alternative therapies
  • Pelvic floor exercises

    Erectile dysfunction may cause a disruption to your sex life, but there are treatment options available. Don't hesitate to talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms, especially after learning about the link between ED and cardiovascular disease.

    Tips to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease

    The prevention of heart disease isn't always possible, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of heart failure or other serious complications. Some of the most effective actions include:

  • Control blood pressure
  • Manage cholesterol levels
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Avoid sedentary habits
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Stay hydrated
  • Limit processed foods
  • Be mindful of salt intake
  • Prioritize sleep
  • Learn your family health history
  • See your doctor regularly
  • Manage stress levels
  • Control underlying conditions (i.e., diabetes)
  • Take cardiovascular medicine as prescribed
  • Follow heart-healthy guidelines
  • Address sexual problems early
  • Know the symptoms of heart disease

If you experience any chest pain that feels like a tightness or pressure, pain or discomfort that spreads to your shoulders, arm, back, neck, upper belly, or lightheadedness, call 911 immediately. Familiarizing yourself and your loved ones with symptoms of a heart attack could save your life.

Important Information About ED Treatment and Heart Medications

If you're undergoing treatment for the management of erectile dysfunction and are taking medications for vascular disease, make sure you speak with your doctor to ensure medications can be taken together. There are certain medications used as treatment for ED that should not be taken by people with low blood pressure, especially PDE5 inhibitors. Nitrates (GTN) or nicorandil should also not be mixed with certain ED medications. Since each individual is different and their medications and dosages may vary, always confirm your prescriptions and any potentially dangerous interactions with your healthcare provider and/or pharmacist.

If you're diagnosed with an underlying heart problem or any related health issue, it's important to work with your doctor to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Since ED increases your risk of serious health issues, it's important to follow your doctor's advice with the diagnosis or treatment.

If you experience other urologic issues, Byram Healthcare offers a wide selection of high-quality urologic supplies that can be discreetly delivered to your door. Browse our urology products today or call one of our representatives for more information.