ED May Signal Future Heart Trouble

Erectile dysfunction can be a red flag for heart disease

(RxWiki News) While studies have shown that erectile dysfunction can be a sign of cardiovascular disease in older men, young or middle-aged men with ED may be headed toward heart problems as well.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States, and the incidence increases with age.

Heart disease can lead to ED because the condition narrows arteries and limits blood flow to organs, including the penis.

While the link between ED and cardiovascular disease in older men has been established, new scientific analysis supports the widely held theory that ED is a warning sign for young and middle-aged men about possible future heart issues.

"If you have ED, consider a checkup for heart disease."

Martin Miner, MD, chief of family medicine and co-director of the Men's Health Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, RI, along with his colleagues, conducted a review of 40 studies that indicated ED is a major predictor for heart disease in men under the age of 60 and in men with diabetes.

In one of the larger studies, conducted by the Mayo Clinic, men aged 40 to 49 years old with ED were twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease as those who did not have ED. Men 70 years old and up with ED had a five times greater risk of getting coronary artery disease.

Several studies, including a large analysis of more than 6,300 men, suggest that ED is also a particularly powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease in diabetic men. Based on these findings, researchers stressed that all men with type 2 diabetes should be screened for ED symptoms.

"[Identifying] erectile dysfunction represents an important first step toward heart disease detection and reduction,” said Dr. Miner. “Yet many healthcare providers and patients assume it's just a sign of old age, so it may not be something that comes up during an annual physical with a younger man.”

“That's why we urge physicians to discuss sexual function with the majority of their male patients—including diabetic men of all ages and men over the age of thirty with some of the traditional heart disease risk factors, like smoking or a family history,” he said.

By identifying cardiovascular disease early on, patients can receive treatment before the condition becomes life-threatening. Early intervention has the potential to improve men’s outcomes and to lower healthcare costs.

"Also, it may be possible to someday use erectile function as a measurement to tell us if preventive interventions for heart disease are working," added Dr. Miner.

This study was published in the July issue of The American Heart Journal. Dr. Miner is a consultant to Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals, and fellow researcher Dr. Allen Seftel is a consultant to Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Endo, Auxilium, Abbott and Actient Pharmaceuticals.

Review Date: 
August 6, 2012