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There’s a growing body of medical research suggesting that Erectile Dysfunction (ED) can, in some instances, be an early and potent predictor of heart disease[1]. Indeed, a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation  found that “a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction is associated with a two-fold increase in heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular death beyond traditional risk factors.”

heart attack erectile dysfunction

Before you panic. The first thing to say is that there are a few different kinds of ED - and not all of them are potentially indicative of heart health. The first, Occasional ED, is much more common than you might imagine, with almost one in ten men[2] experiencing a brief period in their lives when they find it difficult to get an erection. This is usually, although not always, stress-related or linked to tiredness or exhaustion.

The second form of ED is caused by nerve damage from pre-existing conditions including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease or as a result of surgery - often for prostate cancer. The third form, Frequent ED, is the one that’s linked to underlying physical health problems including heart disease. ED can, of course, also be a sign of emotional or relationship difficulties, but for the purposes of this article, we are looking at the links between Frequent ED and the health of your heart.

 blocked heart erectile dysfunction

Do I have Erectile Dysfunction?

If you have Frequent ED then you will have had trouble for some time getting and keeping an erection. You may also have experienced reduced levels of sexual desire. But ED is nothing to be ashamed of. Although it might seem a difficult subject to navigate, you should try to talk openly and honestly about it with your partner and with a healthcare professional.

In many instances, Frequent ED is caused by insufficient blood supply to the penis[3]. So think of it as an early warning light on your car or bike; it might be time to book in for that service you’ve been putting off. 

The Logical Links Between ED and Heart Disease

The latest thinking by healthcare professionals is that when ED occurs as a precursor to heart problems it is often due to a dysfunction in the inner lining of blood vessels (endothelium) around your body[4].

erectile dysfunction heart disease

Endothelial dysfunction causes inadequate blood supply to the heart and impaired blood flow to the major organs, including the penis. Endothelial dysfunction is also an early marker of atherosclerosis[5] (the blocking of your arteries by fatty plaque and cholesterol deposits). This is the condition that ultimately hardens and narrows arteries restricts and blocks blood flow and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. 

Seeking Medical Help

Of course, it is possible to experience Frequent ED without heart-related health issues. But why take that chance? 40% of ED cases in men over 50 are linked to inadequate blood flow and their cardiovascular health[6].

It’s a cruel irony that ED is such an early and effective indicator of heart health and yet it is a condition that is so difficult for many men to discuss - even with a doctor.  Yet ED is present in 50% of men aged 40 or more [7]. So it’s by no means rare. And it shouldn’t be taboo. 

It’s easy for a lot of men to find a reason not to talk about ED. It’s a condition that can slowly creep up. A degradation in the quality and duration of a guy’s erection will happen as he gets older - that’s a sad fact of life. But thankfully it is treatable and manageable in the majority of cases. Nevertheless, some older men might just think that it’s nature taking its course and that their sex drive is slowing down. They might not even think of it in terms of ED. 

Secondly, most men are not eager to admit to themselves - or their partners - that they aren’t anything less than a modern-day Casanova in the bedroom. They deny the possibility of ED to themselves, stay silent and ignore the condition, hoping it will ‘just get better’. And for some men, it does. Finally, the widespread availability of sexual performance-enhancing drugs without the need for a prescription persuades plenty of men that they do not need to discuss ED with a doctor. This results in a high percentage of ED cases going undiagnosed.

 smoking erectile dysfunction

For all these reasons, men are missing out on an opportunity to manage their long-term health. But ignorance is not bliss. The risk of a heart attack after developing erectile dysfunction is similar to that of being a smoker or having a family history of coronary heart disease. One study[8] has shown that within a year of the first significant episode of erectile dysfunction in men aged 55 years or over, one in 50 had a major stroke or heart attack. And within five years, it was greater than one in ten men.

So, it’s definitely worth talking to a doctor about ED. Remember that doctors are professionals and they will not judge, patronize or shame you. Your doctor will no doubt have read similar research to that which is quoted in this article. As such they are very likely to perform targeted cardiac-related screening and testing as part of your ED consultation.

Pumps and rings

Once you and your doctor have identified the underlying cause of your ED then you can work together on a treatment plan that is right for you. Many men, at this point, decide that they could benefit from using erection enhancing cock rings and penis pumps (sometimes known as vacuum or erectile dysfunction pumps). Cock rings are used by plenty of men as sex toys, but they can help with ED by keeping blood in the shaft of the penis, resulting in bigger and harder erections. Some guys use cock rings in conjunction with a penis pump. Penis pumps create a vacuum that forces blood to flow into your cock - they have the added bonus of creating an immediate increase in length and size too.

 penis pump

Penis pumps and cock rings can also be a good solution for men that can’t use erectile dysfunction medication (guys on nitrates cannot take erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis because the combination can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure[9]).  As always, talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have about cock rings or penis pumps and stop using them if any irritation or other issues develop. 

Think with your dick

I hope this article has shown you that ED can be an accurate predictor of future cardiovascular health. Although ED might seem like the end of the world, it is relatively straightforward to treat for lots of men. With this in mind we, as men, all need to change our attitudes towards ED and be a lot more open with ourselves and with each other.

Early diagnosis of heart-related problems because of a visit to your doctor about ED could prevent further development of a chronic condition and give you the best chance of managing your overall health. This is one situation where it’s not just advisable, but critical to think with your dick.

[1] Erectile dysfunction as an independent predictor of future cardiovascular events

[2] Male sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction; impotence)

[3] Erectile dysfunction

[4] Penile and systemic endothelial function in men with and without erectile dysfunction

[5] Role of endothelial dysfunction in atherosclerosis

[6] Erectile dysfunction FAQ

[7] Erectile dysfunction

[8] Erectile dysfunction and subsequent cardiovascular disease

[9] Good news for heart patients with impotence