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Can Erectile Dysfunction Indicate Heart Attack Risk?



Can Erectile Dysfunction Indicate Heart Attack Risk?You put a lot of heart into your sex life — but the two may be linked in more ways than you think. Find out about the connection between erectile dysfunction and heart disease.
Research has recently linked erectile dysfunction to a number of surprising health conditions — restless legs syndrome and periodontis (inflamed gums) to name a few. But while these studies remain a bit murky, there’s one health connection that shouldn’t be ignored: The link between ED and heart disease.

Men who experience even mild erectile dysfunction (ED) have about a 25 percent greater risk of heart disease (including heart attack and stroke) than their peers. This means that, for some men, erectile dysfunction is a stronger predictor of heart disease risk than family history, smoking, or high cholesterol levels. And the more severe your ED, the greater your risk of heart disease-related events.

The Erectile Dysfunction-Heart Disease Connection

From a purely physiological standpoint, the health of your heart and the functioning of your penis are intimately related.

“We’re talking about blood flow in the male penile shaft,” explains urologist Ajay Nehra, MD, professor of urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Arteries in both the heart and the penis are lined with endothelium, says Dr. Nehra. When the endothelium in these blood vessels doesn’t respond well to the release of nitric oxide (a key part of the chain reaction that allows blood to flow as needed), then blood doesn’t flow into organs, including the penis.

In other words, the complex chemical process behind your erection can be interrupted if the vascular, or blood vessel, system isn’t functioning correctly. Atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in your blood vessels, can also increase erectile dysfunction risk by reducing blood flow throughout the body.

To add to the problem, the penis contains much smaller blood vessels than the ones that carry blood to the heart and the brain, which is why men who have early heart disease may see the effects first in their penis and then in larger blood vessels.

Erectile Dysfunction and High Blood Pressure

Over time, high blood pressure damages your blood vessels, which can lead to erectile dysfunction. While it’s critical to get high blood pressure under control, ED is a side effect of some blood pressure control medications for some men.

In fact, many medications have ED as a side effect, but “hypertensive drugs are classically the worst,” says Nehra. However, he emphasizes, you don’t have to endure this side effect. Talk to your urologist about medications that will counter ED without affecting your blood pressure meds.