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Erectile Dysfunction Associated with Increased Risk for Heart Attack and Stroke

CardioSmart News

Men with erectile dysfunction face nearly twice the risk for heart attack and stroke, based on a recent study of nearly 1,800 U.S. men. Results were published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation and suggest that erectile dysfunction could be a warning sign for heart health.

Erectile dysfunction and heart disease are both vascular conditions that have many similarities. Both conditions share numerous risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. And both occur when there’s reduced blood flow in the heart’s vessels and arteries.

In many cases, erectile dysfunction is caused by narrowing of the small arteries in the penis. The same narrowing that occurs in those vessels can also impact larger vessels, like the ones in your heart. Although not all cases of erectile dysfunction have the same cause, it can be a warning sign of build-up in the arteries. Experts wonder how well erectile dysfunction may predict risk for future heart events.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the MESA study (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis), which tracks the heart health of adults from six communities in the United States. The recent analysis included a diverse group of 1,757 male study participants, all of who provided information about their sexual activity.

Specifically, participants were told that erectile dysfunction (sometimes called impotence) means being unable to get and keep an erection that is rigid enough for satisfactory sexual activity. They were then asked if they were always, usually, sometimes or never able to get and keep an erection good enough for sexual intercourse.

Individuals answered “sometimes” or “never” were defined as having erectile dysfunction.

After following participants for an average of 3.8 years, researchers found that men with erectile dysfunction were nearly twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke or heart-related death as men without the condition. This association existed after taking into account factors like age, race, ethnicity and medication use.

Interestingly, nearly 50% of participants had erectile dysfunction. Authors note that participants with erectile dysfunction were more likely to have diabetes and a family history of heart disease. Participants with erectile dysfunction were also more likely to be taking blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medication, as well as antidepressant medication.

The average age of participants was 69, and all were free of heart disease at the start of the study.

According to authors, findings confirm the link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. They also suggest that erectile dysfunction could be an independent risk factor for heart disease, similar to risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Authors note that additional research is needed to confirm this association. However, men with erectile dysfunction should talk to their doctor about their condition and discuss their risk for heart disease.

Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.