Erectile Dysfunction: An Indicator of Underlying Cardiovascular Disease
Have you heard of the expression “a canary in a coal mine”? The metaphor originates from the times when miners used to carry caged canaries while at work. If there was carbon monoxide in the mine, the canary would die before the levels of the gas reached those hazardous to humans. It is an advance warning of some danger. Erectile dysfunction, having trouble getting or keeping an erection, seems like it’s just a sexual problem to many men; however, erectile dysfunction is often a warning sign of heart disease.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) precedes coronary artery disease (CAD) in almost 70% of cases!
What is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile Dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve and maintain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. ED is very prevalent, with 50% of men over the age of 40 experiencing some degree of it.
How do Erections Work?
It is important to understand how erections happen in order to understand how ED and cardiovascular disease are related. When you are aroused through physical or mental stimulation, your brain sends signals that allow arteries in the penis to open completely. An erection occurs when extra blood is delivered to the penis, specifically to the chambers called the corpora cavernosa. The veins draining these chambers get compressed when blood flows into the penis trapping the blood in the penis and producing a firm erection. The erection then returns to the soft, flaccid state when muscles in the penis contract after orgasm, stopping the inflow of blood into the penis and allowing blood to flow out.
With sexual stimulation, blood vessels need to rapidly increase blood flow. The arteries of the penis are much smaller than those of other parts of the body. If these blood vessels are blocked (atherosclerosis), you may not be able to achieve or maintain an erection.
Keep Your Heart Healthy and Find an ED Solution!
If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, take action! Many men avoid the doctor, but ED is a common condition and not something to be embarrassed about. As part of our evaluation process, we may refer patients to a cardiologist for a heart health check. If the cardiologist identifies a risk of future heart disease, it will be managed appropriately and in a timely manner.
The good news is there are treatment options available to you for erectile dysfunction:
- Pills: Often known as Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis. These work for about 70% of men. For men with diabetes, these work in about 50% of men.
- Vacuum Erection Device: This is a pump that is used to pull blood into the penis to create an erection. It is a good option for men that do not want to take medications; But most men move on to other therapies since it can be cumbersome to use. This can be combined with a constriction band as well to maintain the erection achieved from the vacuum.
- Injection Therapy: This involves injecting medicine directly into the side of your penis with a very small needle each time you want an erection. About 70% of men are satisfied with this treatment option.
- Penile Implant: These devices are considered a permanent solution for ED and last on average for 12-15 years. Putting a penile implant in involves a surgical procedure that takes about 1-2 hours. Patient and partner satisfaction rates are over 90%.
We also recommend lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of ED and keep your heart healthy:
- Quit Smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and ED since it damages the lining of your arteries.
- Exercise: Exercise protects the heart in many ways. It not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but it can help make your heart muscle stronger. It can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Diet: Eating a healthy diet can lower blood pressure, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and blood sugar. Choose fats wisely (limited saturated fat) and serve more vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
At Utah Men’s Health we have board certified urologists who are ready to help you find a treatment option for ED that works for you. Click here to request an appointment.
 Gandaglia G, Briganti A, Jackson G, et al. A systematic review of the association between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Eur Urol. 2014 May;65(5):968-78.