Impotence is a common challenge many men face during their lifetime, and fortunately, there is a growing awareness of this problem and ways to treat it. In most cases, cardiovascular problems and erectile dysfunction go hand in hand, yet many men are not aware of this relationship.
In fact, both conditions are the consequence of systemic vascular disease and have common risk factors, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and smoking. In addition, both cardiovascular problems and erectile dysfunction share the same pathological foundation, endothelial dysfunction.
Of course, there are other causes of erectile dysfunction, including psychological issues, prostate surgery, cancer treatment, hormonal imbalances, alcoholism, obesity, and use of certain medications. However, because an erection depends on good blood circulation in the penis, any vascular issues that restrict blood flow can put a damper on a male’s sexual response.
Cardiovascular problems and erectile dysfunction
About 70 percent of erectile dysfunction cases have a vascular component. In addition to diabetes and heart disease as causes of erectile dysfunction, other vascular challenges that can contribute to impotence include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and metabolic syndrome.
One important finding is that symptoms of erectile dysfunction typically precede the clinical signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease by three to five years. That means men who are experiencing impotence should see their healthcare provider not only to address and rectify erectile function but to undergo an assessment and take steps to ward off future cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart failure, or myocardial infarction.
Did you know that having erectile dysfunction presents the same risk factor for developing heart disease as a history of smoking or a family history of coronary artery disease?
One hurdle to such assessment is that many men don’t visit their doctor often or even infrequently. Therefore, vascular issues are never discovered or treated, perhaps until there is a cardiovascular event. In addition, some men are still reluctant to seek help for erectile dysfunction and so either attempt to treat it themselves or choose to ignore it and live with it. If these men are living with an undiscovered or budding cardiovascular problem, the ultimate consequences could be dire.
Treating cardiovascular problems and erectile dysfunction
Before determining a treatment strategy for erectile dysfunction, men need to undergo an assessment by a healthcare professional. If a vascular issue is found to be the cause of impotence, numerous treatment options are available, and it is not unusual to opt for more than one. Oral medications (e.g., Viagra, Cialis), penis pumps, and lifestyle changes such as following a heart-healthy diet (e.g., DASH, Mediterranean), stopping smoking, and exercising regularly can help improve blood flow.
Loss of the ability to perform sexually often comes with emotional issues as well, including lack of self-esteem, fears of performance failure, loss of self-confidence, and relationship problems. These and other related psychological challenges can be helped by talking with a counselor or sex therapist familiar with erectile dysfunction issues.
Atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other vascular problems go hand-in-hand with erectile dysfunction in many cases. Because erectile difficulties typically appear several years before clinical signs of cardiovascular disease are apparent, it’s wise to seek help with erectile dysfunction immediately not only to help restore sexual function but to identify and prevent future cardiovascular diseases.
- Diaconu CC et al. The erectile dysfunction as a marker of cardiovascular disease: a review. Acta Cardiologica 2019 Apr 6: 1-7
- Hudson K. Health watch: what’s behind erectile dysfunction? Fox2Now 2019 May 14