Advice for Men: When Wrestling With ED, Listen to Your Heart

Author: Joel Sklar, MD
Advice for Men: When Wrestling With ED, Listen to Your Heart

GREENBRAE, CA — Most people are aware of such conventional heart disease signals as angina (chest pain), high cholesterol and blood pressure.  But what they often don’t realize is that there are equally accurate and important signals of heart disease that often are overlooked.  In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, the single biggest predictor of heart disease in men is erectile dysfunction (ED).

In the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, men with ED had a 43 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than men with no such symptoms. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that men with ED were 1.6 times more likely to suffer from a serious cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.  And my own years of experience as a cardiologist confirm that when men have ED, the problem often can be traced to reduced blood flow, the result of cardiovascular problems.  Because the arteries feeding blood to the penis are smaller than those supplying blood to the heart, they can become restricted or blocked sooner than other vessels.

Despite a growing body of evidence supporting the finding that ED is the “canary in the coal mine” for heart disease, many men remain unaware of these larger implications of ED.  With clinic ads flooding the airwaves promising men “guaranteed better performance with one visit,” a quick, easy cure for ED is far more tempting than a visit to their primary care physician, urologist or cardiologist. Unfortunately, by taking advantage of a quick fix they miss the chance to uncover the heart disease that is the underlying cause of their problem. And, while drugs for erectile dysfunction will work fine for the immediate problem, they don’t protect against further heart damage.

The link between ED and heart disease is especially important because it offers a chance to identify and treat problems well before they become a serious threat. Because ED typically shows up two to three years in advance of more conventional symptoms—and up to five years before a heart attack—it offers men a window of time for action to prevent further damage and even reverse damage already done. (And, by addressing the underlying heart disease, you may find a permanent, drug-free solution to ED.)

Men often think they are indestructible. But if you have ED, you should think beyond the symptoms.  Get evaluated by a urologist, family doctor, or cardiologist—and don’t avoid telling them about the ED.  Ironically, the younger you are when you experience ED, the more likely it is caused by heart disease.  That in itself offers a good reason for men suffering from ED in their 40s, 50s and 60s to get checked out thoroughly. Stopping heart disease early in its tracks can pay back years of good health.

(Dr. Joel Sklar is a Board Certified Cardiologist and Chief Medical Officer at Marin General Hospital.)