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Erectile Dysfunction Common Among Men With Heart Disease

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Erectile Dysfunction and Impotence

Men should exercise regularly, eat properly and stop smoking to help prevent heart disease and Erectile Dysfunction

Heart disease, a potentially lethal and often debilitating affliction, can affect much more than just the heart. The most common cause of heart disease, a hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis, often causes erectile dysfunction in men, says a cardiologist from the University of Michigan Health System. Indeed, he says, erectile dysfunction can be a sign that someone has heart disease and can be a predictor of the leading cause of death in the United States.

"Erectile dysfunction is much more common in people who have cardiovascular risk factors," says Melvyn Rubenfire, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the U-M Health System and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School. "The critical message is that erectile dysfunction may be a very early sign of atherosclerosis or a risk for heart attacks, strokes and other problems."

Since the risk factors for heart disease also can lead to the artery problems that cause erectile dysfunction, Rubenfire recommends that men take action to prevent both conditions with changes in diet and exercise.

"If you take a look at a population of men between 45 and 60, almost half of them may have erectile dysfunction. And if you look at those who have erectile dysfunction, lack of exercise, a high-fat diet and hypertension are all very common," says Rubenfire. "Prevention is the key."

Rubenfire encourages everyone, particularly men in this age group, to practice a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, adequate rest, good hygiene (including dental hygiene), a reduction of fat in one's diet, adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, and receiving a regular health screening by one's physician.

He also notes that smokers have a much higher incidence of erectile dysfunction because smoking impairs the function of the small vessels, and the lining cells of the vessels that are responsible for the erection.

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Several studies presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Urological Association found strong links between erectile dysfunction and heart disease, including a paper that noted a relationship between erectile dysfunction and high blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid marker for heart disease.

This sort of evidence, Rubenfire says, confirms that people with recurring erectile dysfunction should treat it as a potentially serious medical problem. They should talk to their doctors rather than just seeking information from the Internet, and they should never take medication from a friend or that they have bought online without a prescription.

"I think it's important that we think of erectile dysfunction as a medical problem and that we seek medical attention, just as we would for any other medical problem that seems to linger on," Rubenfire says.

Facts about erectile dysfunction and heart disease:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

  • In 2005, heart disease is projected to cost $393 billion, including health care services, medications and lost productivity, according to the American Heart Association.

  • There are many possible causes of erectile dysfunction, including trouble with blood flow to the penis, eating or drinking too much, exhaustion, fear of failure at intercourse, loss of interest in sex, depression, diabetes, low levels of testosterone, problems after surgery for prostate cancer, and side effects of some medications.

  • Many experts believe that 10 to 20 percent of erectile dysfunction cases are caused by psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem and stress, according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse.


Written by Katie Gazella - University of Michigan Health System - ANN ARBOR, MI