Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be frustrating to your relationship, but it could also be an indicator of trouble for your heart. A recent study of men who were age 45 and older found that even a mild case of ED is a warning sign for heart problems. Men with ED are twice as likely to be hospitalized for cardiovascular disease and die from heart problems than men without ED.
Age is a factor. The younger you are when you have symptoms of ED, the more likely it is that it signals a risk of heart disease. Men under 50 are at especially high risk. Erectile dysfunction is much less likely to be a sign of heart disease in men older than 70.
Both ED and heart disease can be caused by clogged arteries. Atherosclerosis is sometimes called hardening of the arteries. Plaques build up in the arteries of your body. The penis has smaller arteries, which are the first to get plugged up. These plaques reduce blood flow in the penis, making it difficult to get an erection. Atherosclerosis can increase your risk of other problems, such as aneurysm and stroke.
If you have trouble getting or maintaining an erection, it could be an early sign of heart disease, so see your doctor to look for signs of atherosclerosis. You doctor should check blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose. Both ED and heart disease share many of the same risk factors.
8 shared risk factors of ED and heart disease
See your doctor if you have any of these risk factors for both ED and heart disease:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history of heart disease
- Age (ED under age 70, and especially under age 50)
Treating ED caused by heart disease
If you are experiencing ED and may be at risk for heart disease, making the following lifestyle changes can protect your heart and help with your ED.
- Exercise—get 30 minutes per day
- Lower sodium content in your diet
- Eat heart-healthy fats such as nuts, avocados, and plant oils
- Lose weight
- Reduce stress (through meditation or exercise)
Talk to your doctor about your treatment options if you have both ED and heart disease. It is not safe to combine certain heart medications, especially nitrates, with many of the medications used to treat ED.
Read more in our Erectile Dysfunction Health Center.
Erectile dysfunction: A sign of heart disease? The same process that creates heart disease may also cause erectile dysfunction, only earlier. Mayo Clinic
Weber MF et al. Risk factors for erectile dysfunction in a cohort of 108,477 Australian men. Medical Journal of Australia 2013 Jul 22; 199(2): 107-11