How Heart Problems Can Affect Your Sex Life

By Gina Garippo

Cardiovascular disease touches almost everyone’s life in some way. Perhaps you’re trying to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Maybe you’ve cared for a parent following a heart attack. Or, if you’re like millions of Americans, the disease might even be interfering with your love life.

Heart disease and erectile dysfunction (ED)—the inability of a man to achieve or maintain an erection for intercourse—share a very close connection. In fact, ED is now considered a mostly vascular condition. More than 70 percent of ED cases are thought to be caused by vascular disease and diabetes.

The Cardiovascular/ED Link

The risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease are the same factors that can cause ED. Those that can be prevented or modified include:

All of these factors can contribute to buildup of plaque in the arteries. This restricts blood flow not only in the arteries leading to the heart, but in those leading to the penis as well. And when blood flow is restricted, getting and maintaining an erection is more difficult.

ED Can Predict Heart Problems

If you have cardiovascular problems, you’re more likely to develop ED. But having ED can also serve as an early warning sign of cardiac problems. Problems in the bedroom often occur years before other signs of cardiovascular disease exist. Why?

The arteries in the penis are much smaller than those leading to the heart and other areas of the body. As a result, the effects of narrowed arteries are first experienced in the penis. That’s why a man may have ED before other signs of heart disease occur.

Treatment to Improve ED

To reduce your risk for heart problems, it’s important to live a healthy lifestyle. Making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthier diet, getting regular exercise, and quitting smoking may help lessen the severity of ED or prevent it from getting worse.

However, if your arteries are already damaged, you may need treatment to improve your sexual function. Here are a few options:

  • Oral medications help improve the penis’s response to sexual stimulation. They work by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes muscles in the penis to allow increased blood flow.

  • Injectable medications trigger an immediate erection, causing the penis to become engorged with blood by widening the blood vessels. Medicine is injected into the urethra with an applicator.

  • Vacuum devices are manual pumps that cause an erection by drawing blood into the penis chambers. This engorges and expands the penis.

  • Surgery can be used to implant a device to help create an erection. Or, it can help reconstruct arteries that are preventing one.

Bottom line? Just as you would see a doctor for other medical issues, talk with your doctor if you have ED. Treating this problem can make for a better sex life—and a healthier heart.

Medical Reviewer: Louise Spadaro, MD Last Annual Review Date: 2010-02-11T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © 2000-2010 The StayWell Company, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Reference: Heart Disease section on Better Medicine


This content is selected and managed by the HealthGrades editorial staff.

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Which risk factors can lead to both heart disease and ED?