Published on March 29th, 2016

Erectile Dysfunction – An Early Warning?

Psychological factors can impact the ability to get and maintain erections, but quite often ED has a physical cause, particularly in older men. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease, often referred to as heart disease, are the most common physical causes of ED; however, there are many factors that may also be associated with erectile dysfunction5.

Medications, such as certain blood pressure drugs or antidepressants can interfere with erectile function.  Treatments for prostate cancer or BPH can damage nerves and blood vessels that impact nerve stimulation and blood flow important for creating erections.  Lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive drinking and being overweight or getting too little exercise may reduce blood flow to the penis making erections difficult5. Much more than just a problem in the bedroom, ED could also be a warning sign that something more serious is going on.

Link to Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of erectile dysfunction or ED5. Studies have shown that having erectile dysfunction is as great of a risk factor for heart attack and stroke as things we are all familiar with such as; family history of heart attack, smoking, and high cholesterol59. A study showed that ED precedes coronary artery disease in almost 70% of cases.  ED could be an indicator of silent cardiac disease11.

Lifestyles changes such as quitting smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, getting regular exercise, losing weight, and eating a healthy diet are likely to reduce cardiovascular risk and may improve erectile function5. However, talking with your healthcare provider about ED may help identify and prevent progression of heart disease and reduce the likelihood of heart attack or stroke.

Diabetes is another leading cause of erectile dysfunction5. Studies have shown that men with diabetes are three times more likely to experience ED than those men without diabetes and it typically affects these men 10-15 years earlier in life7. In men with diabetes, ED is often more severe and associated with a poorer quality of life7.

“Erectile dysfunction will affect nearly 1 in 5 American men older than 20 at some time in their lifetime41.”

Diabetes, and the health problems associated with the disease, can irreversibly damage the nerves and tissues associated with achieving and maintaining an erection making some treatments less effective7. ED may also be a signal that something more important is going on.  Studies have shown that men with diabetes and ED develop coronary artery disease symptoms two to three years after ED sets in and experience cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack or stroke within three to five years61.

ED is not simply a problem in the bedroom, it can be an important sign that you should talk to your healthcare provider. Finding a doctor specializing in the treatment of erectile dysfunction can help rule out health problems associated with erectile dysfunction such as heart disease or diabetes.  A discussion with a specialist can help you find the treatment that works best for you and help you return to a satisfying sex life.