While some men believe that the most important heart function is transfer of blood to penis, this connection is somewhat more complicated. And understanding the close relationship between your heart and your penis can save your life.
Erectile Dysfunction As Cardiac Disorder Symptom
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the most important connection between sex and heart. From 10 to 20 million American men suffer from ED. We need to answer the question whether erectile dysfunction is often a symptom of hidden cardiac disease.
ED appearance can endanger your sexual life, but it also indicates a much greater threat to your life as a whole. Over a five-year period, a man with ED obtains almost 50% increased risk of heart attack or need for hospitalization for heart disease. This risk is even higher in men under 50, since ED is particularly disturbing sign of poor heart health in younger men. The more severe ED is, the higher the risk of developing heart disease is.
Erectile dysfunction is also negative symptom in men with diagnosed ischemic heart disease. Half of men with coronary heart disease either have or will develop erectile dysfunction, and they have a worse prognosis in comparison with men without ED. Conclusion: ED and coronary heart disease go hand in hand.The connection between erection and heart health from medical point of view includes:
- endothelial blood vessels dysfunction.
Atherosclerosis is systemic problem that affects arteries throughout body, from those in penis, to those in kidneys, brain, legs and heart. One of the first stages of atherosclerosis, which occurs before plugging plaques formation, is abnormal function of endothelial cells of lining arteries and helping to control blood flow, causing artery to expand or contract. Just as heart pumps blood, erection depends on normal functioning of these cells and arteries that they regulate.
Erection and Heart Health
Erection is vascular process. In order for erection to occur, penile arteries should expand, which provides additional blood flow into penis. This can happen only if the endothelium functions properly. The most common reason why man can not have erection or if it arises, but does not keep for long, is that arteries do not expand because of endothelial dysfunction. And if penile arteries are damaged by this early stage of atherosclerosis, there are all chances that cardiac arteries are also affected by atherosclerosis.
Although the main mechanism of artery damage or dysfunction is the same, it usually causes ED before symptoms of coronary heart disease appear. Why? Penile arteries are smaller (1 millimeter compared to 3-5 millimeters of the heart), therefore, to worsen blood flow, endothelial dysfunction of smaller scale and fewer plaques is required. In addition, unlike heart, for penis, when there is blood flow decrease, it is impossible to create new arteries. On average, erectile dysfunction is ahead of coronary heart disease by approximately three years. The bottom line is that ED often serves as warning of impending heart disease. A man with ED should be considered patient with heart condition, until proven otherwise.
If you develop erectile dysfunction, you should think about your waistline. Discuss this problem as soon as possible with doctor who can help both with your ED and with your heart. But heart health is more important.
Common Risk Factors:ED and Heart Disease
- elderly age;
- high blood pressure;
- high cholesterol;
A lifestyle that minimizes risk factors reduces chances of developing both erectile dysfunction and ischemic heart disease. Conversely, unfavorable profile of risk factors for heart also means “bad news for penis.”
When assessing your ED and related risk factors, your doctor will conduct routine physical examination.
He (or she) will also prescribe ordinary blood tests, including:
- lipid panel;
- blood glucose test.
Further examination is usually not required. Unlike some doctors, we do not recommend stress test for all men with erectile dysfunction.
A stress test should be done only if you have specific cardiac symptoms, such as:
- chest pain;
- neck pain;
- back pain;
- hand pain;
- shortness of breath.
Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Health: Treatment
The most important step for both your heart health and your sexual life is to optimize risk factors. But what if you already have erectile dysfunction? Often there is improvement along with improvement in heart symptoms and healthy (for erection) lifestyle. In a study of obese men with ED, scientists showed beneficial effect of lifestyle on sexual function. Men were randomized to group that performed detailed weight loss and exercise program, or to group that was given only general information about need for healthy eating and exercise.
Over two-year period, men who kept healthy lifestyle lost average weight of 15 kilograms and had general improvement in risk factors, including reduction in inflammatory process and better level of cholesterol. And with erectile function there were corresponding improvements: in one-third of participants ED disappeared altogether.The program required commitments – participants had to exercise about three hours a week. But we guess that participants thought that such efforts were justified, given good result.
We deliberately decided to choose a way of life before giving you information about medications often prescribed by erectile dysfunction. Taking pills from ED does not eliminate risk factors and does not help heart health. These drugs should be taken in conjunction with lifestyle changes. There are three medicines currently available for ED treatment: Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil). They are among the most popular drugs in the world.
The history of Viagra discovery symbolizes connection between heart disease and ED. In the mid-1980s. researchers sough cure that would reduce chest pain, improving blood flow in coronary arteries. In 1989, they noticed that sildenafil citrate (later called Viagra) was perspective for laboratory experiments. In large study, when coronary patients received either Viagra or placebo (sugar tablets), Viagra did indeed cause small increase into coronary blood flow, but it did not lead to improvement in heart symptoms.
But you can guess interesting side effect that men have noticed. Although Viagra lost its place among cardiac drugs, in 1998 it became the first drug approved for ED treatment.
Today, when both heart condition and risk factors are evaluated, Viagra, Levitra or Cialis is prescribed as the first line of drug in ED treatment. These active ingredients work by blocking protein that normally cleaves guanosine monophosphate (GMP), an important vasodilator of penile arteries. When fissile protein is blocked, penile arteries can relax, blood flow increases, and erection occurs. These drugs do not cure endothelial dysfunction and early atherosclerosis, which interfere with normal erection; They just give a way around this problem.
One important notice: men who take nitrates (nitroglycerin) to relieve chest pain should not simultaneously take drug from ED. Like ED drugs, nitrates cause arteries and veins to expand, and combination of two drugs can lead to dangerous drop in blood pressure. Now you understand warning that accompanies every television advertisement of these drugs. Men taking Viagra and Levitra should not take nitrates at least 24 hours after the last dose, and men taking Cialis should wait 48 hours before taking nitrates. If you are put in hospital because of chest pain, always tell doctors and nurses if you are taking medicine for erectile dysfunction. It eliminates possibility that you will be given potentially life-threatening nitrates.
For us, doctors, erectile dysfunction means “early diagnosis”. Asking patient if he has erectile dysfunction is cheap and effective screening test for identifying cardiovascular diseases. Nowadays there are very effective therapies available for men with ED. But before taking medicine, we must take into account heart health. After considering their cardiovascular risk factors, most men with ED can take appropriate medications and enjoy a normal sexual life.Tags: cardiovascular disease, impotence, Men’s Health, sexual dysfunction