WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
May 21, 2010 -- Erectile dysfunction is an early warning sign of heart disease and may provide a window of opportunity to stave off heart attacks and strokes, according to a review article in the June issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice.
Men with erectile dysfunction typically develop heart-related symptoms within two to three years, and they are at risk of experiencing a cardiac event such as a heart attack or stroke within three to five years, the study shows.
“Erectile dysfunction can be an early marker of coronary disease which is asymptomatic, so it could predict a cardiac event in the next two to five years,” says researcher Graham Jackson, MD, a cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital in London. “Erectile dysfunction may be associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and all the other risk factors for a coronary event [that] may not have been detected, but erectile dysfunction gives us a chance to find risk factors and treat before they become a major problem.”
Both erectile dysfunction and heart disease can be caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which restricts blood flow to both organs.
In fact, erectile dysfunction will be a harbinger of heart disease in about two-thirds of men. This link is more pronounced in otherwise healthy men aged 40 to 69 than in older men, the new study shows.
According to the new report, otherwise healthy men and men with type 2 diabetes who develop erectile dysfunction often have early signs of heart disease, such as reduced blood flow to the heart and calcium deposits in their heart arteries. Erectile dysfunction is also a marker of more severe heart disease and left ventricular dysfunction, a disorder in which the heart’s main pumping chamber is weak.
“By treating erectile dysfunction, we can save a love life, but we can also use erectile dysfunction as a means of saving a life,” Jackson says. “Just because the penis is heading in the wrong direction does not mean the heart has to follow.”
Srinivas Iyengar, MD, a clinical attending cardiologist at Bradenton Cardiology Center in Bradenton, Fla., agrees.
“If you have erectile dysfunction, you are at a higher risk for death from a cardiovascular source than someone who doesn’t,” he says.
The bottom line? “A 40-year-old man with erectile dysfunction should get a cardiovascular workup,” Iyengar says.
If not, erectile dysfunction is a lost opportunity in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes, he says. “Doctors who diagnose and treat erectile dysfunction should also evaluate a man’s heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes,” he says.
None of this is to say that all men with erectile dysfunction will go on to develop heart disease, he says.
“They are at a higher risk, and their overall risk profile goes up if they have erectile dysfunction,” he tells WebMD.
SOURCES:Srinivas Iyengar, MD, clinical attending cardiologist, Bradenton Cardiology Center, Bradenton, Fla.Graham Jackson, MD, cardiologist, London Bridge Hospital, London.Jackson, G. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 2010; vol 64: pp 848-857.
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