If you’re like most men, you’re reluctant to talk about being unable to get or maintain an erection. But erectile dysfunction is quite common. In fact, more than 30 percent of men ages 40 to 70 have trouble achieving or maintaining an erection.
Many men assume erectile dysfunction, or ED, is psychological. But research suggests underlying vascular issues are the most common cause. And those problems can put men at risk for other serious medical problems.
Here are five things you should know about ED and your health:
Erectile dysfunction can be an early warning sign. One of the first stages of heart disease is endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the blood vessels cannot open properly. Endothelial dysfunction often affects the blood vessels of the penis first. In many cases, ED might be the first sign something is wrong. There’s a connection between ED and heart disease.
Erectile dysfunction and heart disease are linked. Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart and impairing the functioning of blood vessels. You need healthy blood flow for erectile function. In addition, some medications that treat high blood pressure can contribute to ED.
Erectile dysfunction is also connected to diabetes. ED is closely linked with type 2 diabetes, too. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and nerves responsible for erectile function. One study found almost half of all men in the study with diabetes also had ED.
Lifestyle choices can help. There’s good news: A healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact. A nutritious diet; regular exercise; avoiding smoking; and controlled high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke—and could improve sexual function in the process.
Silence can hurt. We get it: Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing. Many men don’t talk about it, even to their doctor. Men who do see the doctor can be so focused on their troubles in the bedroom that they fail to mention other worrying symptoms, including shortness of breath or chest pain. If you have ED, talk to your doctor about being screened for diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, especially if you’ve noticed other symptoms.