A recent study by Melbourne, Australia’s Prince Henry’s Institute published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that men with erectile dysfunction (ED) over the age of 20 have double the risk of cardiovascular events than those with normal sexual function. The study also found that after the first incident of ED in men aged 55 and older, 2% had a major stroke or heart attack within a year and 11% within five years. Experts at Prince Henry’s Institute warned that the failure of men to seek advice on ED meant they “may be missing a vital warning of impending cardiovascular disease.” Why is this? Is ED causing men to have cardiac events and strokes or is it the other way around?
To put it simply, ED can be a symptom of heart disease. Erections are caused by a sequence of events in which the penis is filled with blood until it becomes rigid enough for penetration. Men with cardiovascular problems can have a difficult time getting adequate blood flow to the penis to achieve an erection. Atherosclerosis, a major cardiovascular problem, is the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This build up causes the arteries to narrow and harden, limiting blood flow. Because the arteries supplying your penis are smaller than those supplying your heart, one of the initial symptoms of atherosclerosis may be ED. Cardiovascular problems can also damage penile nerves and arteries, inhibiting erectile function.
Many times ED is the first symptom of poor cardiovascular health. Diseases like high blood pressure sometimes have no outward symptoms and they go undiagnosed for far too long. It is also troublesome that many men feel uncomfortable talking to their doctor about ED; therefore, they don’t get to the doctor soon enough and their cardiovascular problems become progressively worse before they’re treated. ED is a very serious medical condition, in addition to being a signifier of cardiovascular disease; ED is linked to many other physical and psychological problems. Men with ED can become withdrawn from their partner or even avoid romantic relationships altogether. ED can make it difficult for men to reproduce and can lead to low self-esteem, depression and even effect work performance.