The Connection Between Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Health

April 01,2021 |

As men age, an increasing number of individuals report having difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. While this is natural from time to time, it shouldn’t be occurring every time you try to engage in sexual intercourse. Erectile dysfunction and age are not directly linked. Instead, the underlying conditions associated with increasing age are the real culprits. While there are many things that you should consider doing to improve and maintain your sexual health and overall health, here we’ll discuss the connection between erectile dysfunction and heart health.

What is Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get and sustain an erection that’s suitable for sexual intercourse. It’s also referred to as impotence and is not a normal part of aging, as many would believe. ED is a disorder that is often associated with an underlying condition, whether physical or mental. One thing to note is that erectile dysfunction is not the same thing as premature ejaculation. It is also different from any male infertility issues or reduced libidos. All of these problems often stem from a common condition, but they require separate attention.

While almost every man is likely to experience some sort of short-term erectile dysfunction, it affects about 1 in 10 adult males on a long-term basis. Short-term problems revolving around the failure to achieve an erection are often caused by alcohol consumption, drug use, stress, or even fatigue. This is not an unusual occurrence and does not require any treatment. If you experience a failure to achieve an erection more often than not, there may be an underlying problem that requires the attention of a doctor. These problems can be both psychological or physical, or a combination of the two.

Different Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

As mentioned, ED is caused by one or more physical or psychological problems. In order for it to be defined as erectile dysfunction, certain conditions must occur. Erections are caused by a combination of penile function, circulation, and neural stimulation. When one or more of these are disrupted, the result is ED. Some conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction include:

  • Vascular Diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Disease
  • Neurological Diseases
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Psychological Factors
  • Injury to the Penis
  • Chronic Illness
  • Prescription Medications
  • Peyronie’s Disease
  • Nerve Damage from Priapism
  • Surgical Operations
  • Venous Leaks
  • Tobacco Use
  • Drug Use
  • Alcohol Consumption

While these causes of erectile dysfunction all require treatment of some sort, here we’ll focus on vascular diseases and overall heart health—the leading cause of ED.

Understanding How Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Problems are Linked

Your body digests food and breaks it down into smaller components. Some foods contribute to healthy functioning, while others lead to problems. Cholesterol—a type of fat that circulates throughout your blood stream—can create plaque buildup in the arteries of your body. As this becomes more serious, the plaque can harden your blood vessels, making them thick and stiff. This is known as arteriosclerosis.

While some levels of cholesterol are healthy, when consumed in excess from unhealthy foods, it can lead to heart disease. Heart disease restricts blood flow to your extremities and compromises the functions of the blood vessels. Since erections rely on a strong, healthy blood flow, it’s understandable that there’s a link between the two. Talk to your doctor about measuring your cholesterol levels to better understand if this is causing your ED. If your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels are high, your doctor can work with you to determine a plan of action to lower them.

An erection occurs when blood flows to your penis due to mental or physical stimulation. This blood fills the vessels and swells, causing a hardening of the penile shaft. When there is an interference in this blood flow, whether from plaque buildup (arteriosclerosis) or endothelial dysfunction, problems occur.

The link between erectile dysfunction and heart health is so strong that ED is often considered an early sign of heart disease. Endothelial dysfunction, a condition where the blood vessels cannot dilate properly, is one of the first stages of coronary heart disease and often affects the blood vessels in the penis first. While many men find erectile dysfunction to be an embarrassing topic, finding a urologist that you feel comfortable with is essential in catching any problems early on. Make sure to clearly communicate any and all symptoms during your visit to get the proper treatment required to overcome ED.

As studies continue to be published regarding the strength of this connection, it becomes increasingly clear that men need to be aware of the implications of problems in the bedroom.

Common Risk Factors of Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Disease

Some of the common risk factors that erectile dysfunction and heart disease share include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, age, obesity, low levels of testosterone, diabetes, tobacco use, and alcohol use.

  • High Blood Pressure – long periods of extended high blood pressure can be damaging to more parts of your body than one. It can cause arterial deterioration and reduce circulation, which can lead to heart disease. It can also contribute to erectile dysfunction.
  • High Cholesterol – as mentioned previously, cholesterol levels can contribute to arteriosclerosis. This restricts blood flow and can therefore lead to both ED and heart disease.
  • Age – as you age, your risk for heart disease, ED, and a number of other conditions increases. However, due to the connection between ED and heart disease, it seems that the two are more interconnected when they’re presented in younger men. Erectile dysfunction after the age of 70 is more commonly associated with other conditions than heart disease.
  • Obesity – carrying around excess weight puts strain on your body. Overtime, this can lead to chronic diseases, deterioration, and a number of other problems. Obesity is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction, heart disease, and a myriad of circulation problems.
  • Low Levels of Testosteronelow testosterone levels are linked with increased rates of ED and heart disease. While the connection between the two is still being researched, boosting your testosterone levels using healthy, legal methods is a good way to take preventative action.
  • Diabetes – if you’re living with diabetes, you’re more likely to develop both erectile dysfunction and heart disease. To make sure that you’re taking the proper preventative measures, it’s important to effectively manage your diabetes. If you’re having trouble, consider talking to your doctor about healthy management plans or continuous glucose monitors.
  • Smokingsmoking impacts a number of urological conditions and increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Considering the significant link between smoking and erectile dysfunction, amongst other problems, there’s never been a better time to quit.
  • Alcohol and Drug Use – consuming alcohol in excess and engaging in illegal drug use can contribute to both heart disease and ED. Alcohol also creates a short-term inhibiting factor on erections and should only be consumed in moderation.
  • Depression – if you’re suffering from depression, you may be at a higher risk for ED and heart disease. While this connection is still unclear, it’s worth seeing a doctor to address any problems. If you’re overly stressed or anxious, getting help can reduce ED caused by psychological conditions.

Treating Erectile Dysfunction

While there are many ways to address erectile dysfunction, if it is caused by heart disease your doctor may recommend more targeted treatment plans. The best thing that you can do today is to begin making lifestyle changes. Small changes in your diet, exercise level, and extracurricular activities can create major impacts on your long-term health. The first step is to quit smoking and cut back on alcohol use. Next, reevaluate your diet and try to eat nutritiously balanced meals that are low in LDL cholesterol. Try to increase your physical activity levels and add strength training to your aerobic exercises. Discuss any medications you’re currently taking with your doctor to rule out prescription drug causes of ED and make changes as needed.

If your doctor diagnosis you with heart disease, he or she may prescribe medications to help. In severe cases, surgery may be required to bypass damaged veins and arteries. Luckily, when caught early heart disease is reversible. Erectile dysfunction is also treatable and can be cured when the proper measures are taken.

To make sure you’re taking the necessary precautions, always schedule an appointment with your urologist if you have any symptoms of erectile dysfunction. For more educational materials, or a strong support team alongside your journey to healthy sexual functioning, the professionals at Byram Healthcare are here to help.