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Older men tend to take more painkillers and also tend to have higher rates of erectile dysfunction, but does taking medications for pain cause impotence? Dr. Joseph Gleason, a urologist with Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, and colleagues think so

Aspirin, Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, and Celebrex Tied to Increased Rates of Erectile Dysfunction

In the United States, acetaminophen is most often sold under the trade name Tylenol, and ibuprofen is usually sold as Advil.

Dr. Gleason and his colleagues analyzed survey data from about 81,000 men. Approximately 1 in 100 men aged 40 or younger reported erectile dysfunction, while about 1 in 2 men over the age of 75 reports a problem with impotence. However, using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as Aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol greatly increased the incidence of impotence. For instance:

  • 34 per cent of men aged 45 to 49 reported using over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • 13 per cent of men aged 45 to 49 reported moderate to severe erectile dysfunction.
  • 47 per cent of men aged 65 to 69 reported using over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • 42 per cent of men aged 65 to 69 reported moderate to severe erectile dysfunction.
The study did not find that every man who took Aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol developed erectile dysfunction. Overall, about 47 per cent of men in the study reported using over the counter pain relievers and 29 per cent reported some degree of impotence.

Men who took the pain relievers were 1.4 times more likely to be impotent. But even after correcting for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and smoking, men who took pain relievers were still 38 per cent more likely to become impotent. Why should this be?

Scientists Believe Aspirin and Similar Pain Relievers Stop Production of Hormones Needed for Erection

Many men are advised to take a baby Aspirin every day to support cardiovascular health by preventing the action of clotting factors. Since vascular problems and erectile dysfunction are related, it's not too much of a stretch to suppose that Aspirin use is coincidental to impotence, not the cause of it. But comparing men who took had cardiovascular disease and took Aspirin to men who had cardiovascular disease and did not take Aspirin, Aspirin still seemed to increase the risk of impotence. Since Aspirin is supposed to make cardiovascular disease better, this result seems to suggest that Aspirin somehow causes impotence.

How could Aspirin and similar pain relievers cause impotence?

The Kaiser Permanente researchers believe that Aspirin, Advil, and Tylenol, as well as other pain relievers in the same class sold under different brand names, interfere with the production of luteinizing hormone, which works with testosterone to make an erection possible. Men who are deficient in either testosterone or luteinizing hormone may suffer erectile dysfunction.

The effects of Aspirin, Advil, Tylenol and related drugs are compounded by also taking certain antidepressants or medications for high blood pressure which also cause erectile dysfunction. And taking adult-dose Aspirin for pain relief may have greater effects on erectile ability than taking a baby Aspirin every day to prevent blood clots.

  • Gleason JM, Slezak JM, Jung H, Reynolds K, Eeden SK, Haque R, Quinn VP, Loo RK, Jacobsen SJ. Regular Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Use and Erectile Dysfunction. J Urol. 2011 Feb 18. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Photo courtesy of Sarah by Flickr :