If you have erectile dysfunction (ED), listen up: at least one doctor is stating that erectile dysfunction is the main sign of heart disease in men. In fact, urologist Terry Mason, chief medical officer at Cook County Hospitals in Chicago calls erectile dysfunction “the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to heart disease.
A link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease/cardiovascular disease has been recognized for many years. If you check out a list of risk factors for heart disease and cardiovascular disease, you will see erectile dysfunction among other factors. But being on the list and heading the list are two different things.
If you are among the estimated 30 million men in the United States with erectile dysfunction, the difference could be significant. According to Mason, “when men begin to have erectile dysfunction it’s a sign that there’s more widespread disease and not just for the heart but throughout all the blood vessels in the body.”
The reason is that all the blood vessels in the body are lined with endothelial cells, but the penis happens to have more of these cells per unit volume than anywhere else in the body. That means when a disease affects those cells, especially in men, it’s going to show up as erectile dysfunction, according to Mason.
Although men with ED may not think so, experiencing erectile dysfunction actually has a positive side: it can alert them and their doctors that heart problems are pending so they can take steps to prevent and further damage and even reverse developing heart disease. Geo Espinosa, ND, Lac, CNS, RH (AHG), director of the Integrative Urological Center at New York University Langone Medical Center, recommends that men who are experiencing erectile dysfunction make an appointment with their doctor to get a cardiac workup, especially if they are younger than 50 years old. Erectile dysfunction in younger men is more likely to be a sign of a heart problem than it is in men older than 70.
The seriousness of the association between ED and cardiovascular disease has been made apparent in several studies, not least of which was published in March 2010 in Circulation. The researchers reported that men who had cardiovascular disease and ED were 1.6 times more likely to suffer from a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or death than men who did not have erectile dysfunction. Overall, the men were 1.9 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, twice as likely to have a heart attack, 1.2 times more likely to be hospitalized for heart failure, and 1.1 times more likely to have a stroke.
The take-home message is that if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction and you have not had a cardiac workup, see your doctor soon. It could save your life.
Read more in our Erectile Dysfunction Health Center.
Bohm M et al. Erectile dysfunction predicts cardiovascular events in high-risk patients receiving telmisartan, ramipril, or both. Circulation 2010 Mar 30; 121(12): 1439-46
CNN Health, August 17, 2011
Menezes A et al. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Postgrad Med 2011 May; 123(3): 7-16