Heart Disease & Sexual Health


Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been a topic of great interest since the beginning of recorded history. References to erectile dysfunction appear in the Bible, characteristically in the form of punishments for transgressions against the Lord. In medieval times, erectile dysfunction was thought to be caused by the spell of witches.

Throughout history, cultures have sought remedies for ED. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks concocted a variety of potions hoping to cure the malady. Lacking modern science, all were doomed to failure. It was not until the past few decades when enhanced understanding of the physiology of male sexual function allowed development of breakthrough medicines to treat ED.

An all too common problem
Erectile dysfunction is very common, affecting to some degree more than half of all men age 40 years or older. The prevalence increases with age, with 70% of men older than 70 years experiencing ED. This condition is particularly important to our readers because ED is common in men with circulatory disorders and in those who take cardiovascular medications.

Risk factors the same for heart disease
Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease share many of the same risk factors. Two key studies analyzing this topic include the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The risk factors include:

Diabetes. This represents the most common risk factor, as more than half of all men with diabetes have ED. The onset of ED in patients with diabetes is associated with other complications of this disease involving the eye (retinopathy) and nervous system (sensory and autonomic neuropathy).

Hypertension. This is a controversial and complex association. Not all studies agree, but many support hypertension, particularly severe hypertension as a risk factor for ED. Complicating the analysis is that treatment with some blood pressure lowering agents clearly increases the likelihood of ED.

Smoking. The MMAS found that smoking nearly doubled the risk of moderate or complete ED compared with nonsmokers. It also markedly increases the risk of ED in men with heart disease and other cardiac risk factors.

Obesity and physical inactivity. Overweight men are more likely to have ED. The NHANES found that sedentary behavior was strongly correlated with ED. In the MMAS, men who were initially sedentary had lower rates of ED if they increased their level of activity.


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Last Modified Date: May 15, 2013

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by Brenda Bell
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