Erectile dysfunction is more than a sexual problem - it could be an early sign of cardiovascular disease

Sexual symptoms could be an early warning sign of worsening health status.

Erectile dysfunction may result from clogged arteries, or cardiovascular disease, which can impede the blood flow necessary to create an erection - according to a study.

Guys, if you're having problem with your sexual performance or suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED), get your heart health checked. A study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society suggested that erectile dysfunction could also be a sign of a man's risk for cardiovascular disease and early death. This risk exists regardless of your testosterone levels.

Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is characterized by the inability to develop or maintain an erection of the penis during sexual activity. This condition occurs more often in older men, and it is more often linked to low levels of testosterone. In previous studies, low testosterone levels have been linked to a higher risk of death in middle-aged and older men. But those results have been inconsistent, said Dr. Leen Antonio of KU Leuven-University Hospitals in Belgium, the lead researcher on the new study.

Dr. Antonio's team examined the relationship between hormone levels and sexual function in men. Surprisingly, they found that having erectile dysfunction is a bigger issue than low testosterone levels.

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"As both vascular disease and low testosterone levels can influence erectile function, sexual symptoms can be an early sign for increased cardiovascular risk and mortality," said Antonio.

Hormone levels and sexual function

Dr. Antonio's team analyzed data from nearly 2,000 men ages 40 to 79 in five medical centres. They examined the relationship between their hormone measurements and sexual function. During the average follow-up period of 12.4 years, 25 per cent of the men died. Of the men who died, those with normal testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction had a 51% higher risk of death than those without these symptoms.

They also found that men with low total testosterone levels and sexual symptoms had a higher risk of death compared with men with normal testosterone levels and no sexual symptoms.

Higher risk of early death was found in men with sexual symptoms such as erectile dysfunction and poor morning erections. But the researchers didn't find association of low libido with a higher risk of early death.

Causes of erectile dysfunction

In addition to low testosterone levels, erectile dysfunction may result from clogged arteries, or cardiovascular disease, which can impede the blood flow necessary to create an erection. That's why erectile dysfunction, regardless of testosterone levels, can indicate a risk for heart disease and early death.

According to Dr. Antonio, the blood vessels that provide blood for an erection are smaller than the coronary arteries. This means that when there's a build-up of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis) the blood flow in the penile vessels may be affected earlier than in the coronary arteries.

Some other possible causes of erectile dysfunction include

  • Certain medications
  • Stress, anxiety, depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Nerve problems from prostate surgery
  • Illnesses
  • Accidents

Prevention and treatment of erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction can be both prevented and treated by practicing a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Antonio said. Treating heart disease risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity may also help prevent the sexual disfunction, the researcher suggested.

Antonio noted that sexual symptoms could be an early warning sign of poor or worsening health status as well as an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality.

So, it is important to discuss sexual symptoms with your doctors to identify and treat other cardiovascular risk factors or apparent cardiovascular disease, the study author added.

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