Impotence, while not to be taken lightly, isn't a life-threatening condition on its own. Men don't actually need sex to stay alive (no matter what they may tell their wives). But impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction, can in fact portend some deadly health problems.
Dependable erections are not necessarily a sure sign of excellent health, but a penis that won't rise to the occasion is a warning that something may be awry.
If it's temporary and only happens occasionally, problems getting or keeping an erection aren’t cause for concern. There could be any number of reasons. It could be fatigue, stress, or even side effects of a medicine you just started taking.
But some men have a more frequent, longer lasting problem called erectile dysfunction (ED).
It’s more common in older men, but aging isn’t the cause. In nearly 75% of ED cases, there’s a physical cause. That means it’s time to see your doctor.
Erections depend on healthy blood flow to the penis. During an erection, vessels in the penis become engorged with blood to produce an erection. Many diseases that affect the blood vessels can interfere with blood flow to the penis. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and high blood pressure (hypertension) can cause abnormal blood flow to the penis and can affect a man's ability to have an erection.
That's not to say that everyone with heart disease is impotent, or vice versa. "It's not a simple relationship between the two conditions by any means," says Ira Nash, MD, spokesman for the American Heart Association and associate professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
All things considered, doctors treating men with erectile dysfunction must always keep in mind that heart disease may be lurking in the background. "I always arrange for them to see a primary care physician or an internist for a cardiac evaluation," Sharlip says.