The Link Between ED and Atherosclerosis

Man covering crotch area with crossed hands

Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, is right up there alongside heart disease, striking fear into the hearts of men everywhere. In fact, ED affects more people each year as our population gets older and our diets and lifestyles get decidedly less healthy. But let’s talk about ED and how it can possibly be a warning sign of future coronary artery disease.

To start, we must understand more about the blood vessels in the body. The blood transport mechanism is an unbelievably complex series of progressively smaller blood vessels that deliver critical oxygen to every cell in the body. You can imagine, therefore, that when blood flow is slowed or interrupted, the result is not good. When we talk about ED, we now know that the problem is primarily vascular in middle-aged and older men, and the mental health concerns that we once blamed it on don’t seem to play as big a role as we once thought. In fact, it’s widely accepted that if patients experience erectile dysfunction in their middle age or older, they are likely to have a cardiovascular concern or, at the very least, a heightened risk for future heart problems.

It all makes sense when we understand the arteries that take this oxygen-rich blood around the body. Arteries come in different sizes, and this is simply because certain bodily structures need more blood than others. For example, the arteries closer to the heart are wider to accommodate the significant volume of blood they need to transport. The artery that supplies the penis, on the other hand, is relatively small. We believe that as plaque builds up within the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, erectile function is one of the first manifestations. Patients suffering from occlusion around their body may then experience peripheral artery disease, or PAD, as a result of atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries. As you can imagine, these arteries are larger than the one that supplies the penis but smaller than the coronary arteries that supply the heart. Eventually, if this plaque buildup continues untreated, patients will eventually develop symptomatic coronary artery disease.

Next Steps

Now that we know there is a potential connection between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease, the first and most important step is to visit your cardiologist for a complete examination if you experience erectile dysfunction.

This is also a warning sign to improve your lifestyle – a critical component of keeping your arteries clean and arresting any additional plaque formation in the arteries. The keys here are to stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet with whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, unsaturated fats, and lean proteins. Exercise is also critical here as it helps keep the heart muscle in top shape. You should aim to get cardiovascular exercise every day and prioritize some strength training, too. Your cardiologist can guide you on best practices.

Most importantly, do not be fooled into thinking that erectile dysfunction is limited to one area of the body. After speaking with your primary care physician or even a men’s health specialist, we encourage you to make an appointment with one of our cardiologists to understand if your manifestation of ED puts you at a higher risk of heart disease.

We look forward to seeing you at our office so we can help you with any possible concerns.