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Men may have problems with erectile dysfunction years before heart disease is detected. Impotence can be an early warning sign that cardiovascular care is needed.

Nearly every man who has had a heart attack has problems with erectile dysfunction ED). But it is also the case that many or even most men who have ED are at risk of cardiovascular disease several months to several years later.

The Australian National Heart Foundation and the New South Wales Cardiovascular Research Foundation have conducted a long-term study known as 45 and Up, following the health of 95,088 Australian men, average 62, through mail-in questionnaires and studies of the national health service records.

The 45 and Up research team recently announced findings that men who have "severe" erectile dysfunction (never able to get an erection strong enough for satisfactory sexual activity) are at considerable risk for certain kinds of cardiovascular disease. Men who have severe erectile dysfunction are:

  • Up to 53% more likely to be diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease.
  • Up to 95% more likely to be diagnosed with ischemic heart disease.
  • Up to 126% more likely to be diagnosed with myocardial infarction (heart attack).
  • Up to 229% more likely to be diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease (either peripheral arterial disease or venous insufficiency).
  • Up to 415% more likely to be diagnosed with peripheral atherosclerosis (blockages in arteries outside the heart).
  • Up to 2256% more likely to be diagnosed with a heart injury known as left bundle branch block.
  • Up to 2320% more likely to be diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Just how many men suffer severe erectile dysfunction, never able to overcome impotence to have sexual relations? The 45 and Up survey, not unexpectedly, found that the frequency of severe impotence increased with age.

  • Only 2% of men aged 45 to 54 reported severe ED.
  • About 7% of men aged 55 to 64 reported severe ED.
  • About 20% of men aged 65 to 74 reported severe ED.
  • About 50% of men aged 75 to 84 reported severe ED.
  • Over 75% of men 85 and older reported severe ED.

Men who have severe erectile dysfunction are also more than twice as likely to die of other causes than men who do not. A significant percentage of men (about 2% of all men, but about 10% of men who have ED) died within 3 years of reporting their sexual dysfunction. But, assuming that loss of the ability to have sex doesn't cause men just to give up, why should erectile dysfunction be so clearly linked to cardiovascular disease?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Banks E, Joshy G, Abhayaratna WP, Kritharides L, Macdonald PS, Korda RJ, Chalmers JP. Erectile dysfunction severity as a risk marker for cardiovascular disease hospitalisation and all-cause mortality: a prospective cohort study. PLoS Med. 2013 Jan. 10(1):e1001372. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001372. Epub 2013 Jan 29.
  • Hotaling JM, Walsh TJ, Macleod LC, Heckbert SR, Pocobelli G, et al. Erectile dysfunction is not independently associated with cardiovascular death: data from the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) Study. J Sex Med 9: 2012. 2104–2110.
  • Photo courtesy of Valentina Costi by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/ladyv25/7189669968/

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