July 21st, 2019

What’s Up Doc?: Erectile dysfunction can be an early sign of heart disease

By Dr. Noorali Bharwani on July 9, 2019.

From time to time most men will have problems with erection. That isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. But some men have erectile dysfunction (ED). This is when it is difficult to get or keep an erection that is firm enough for sexual intercourse.

If ED is an ongoing issue then it will cause stress, affect your self-confidence and contribute to relationship problems.

ED can also be a sign of an underlying health condition like heart disease that needs treatment.

Recently, I came across an article in Choosing Wisely (2018 article developed in cooperation with the American Urological Association) titled “Testosterone for Erection Problems: When you need testosterone treatment – and when you don’t.” Here is some information from that article.

What is testosterone and does it help men with ED?

Testosterone is a male sex hormone. After age 50, men’s levels of testosterone slowly go down and ED becomes more common. But unless you have other symptoms of low testosterone, you should think twice about the treatment. Testosterone treatment usually isn’t helpful for ED irrespective of your testosterone level.

Male sexual arousal is a complex process that involves the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. ED can result from a problem with any of these.

Choosing Wisely says ED is almost always caused by low blood flow to the penis. This is a result of other conditions, such as hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol level. These conditions narrow the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Low testosterone may affect the desire for sex, but it rarely causes ED. Stress and mental health concerns can cause ED.

Testosterone replacement therapy has many risks. Do not use testosterone without medical advice.

It is important to remember that the same process that causes heart disease may also cause ED, only earlier. ED can be an early warning sign of current or future heart problems.

From a purely mechanical perspective, an erection is a hydraulic event – extra blood must be delivered to the penis, kept there for a while, then drained away. An erection may not happen if something interferes with blood flow to the penis.

ED does not always indicate an underlying heart problem. However, research suggests that men with ED who have no obvious cause, such as trauma, and who have no symptoms of heart problems should be screened for heart disease before starting any treatment. Getting the right treatment for your heart might help with ED.

Fortunately, there are several ways to combat erectile dysfunction. Simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising more, or stopping smoking can help. Drink alcohol only in moderation or not at all.

Further tests or treatment might be needed if you have more-serious signs and symptoms of heart disease. If you take certain heart medications, especially nitrates, it is not safe to use many of the medications used to treat erectile dysfunction.

ED is a complex medical problem. Get appropriate medical advice before you try any medications.

Dr. Bharwani is a general surgeon, freelance writer, photographer and author of A Doctor’s Journey and Doctor B’s Eight Steps to Wellness. His latest book is available at Shoppers Drug Mart and Coles Book Store (Medicine Hat Mall), and http://www.nbharwani.com. You can discuss this article and other articles on his website: nbharwani.com and sign up for RSS feed, Twitter or get on the email list.

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