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Atherosclerosis and Erectile Dysfunction

(continued)

Atherosclerosis and Erectile Dysfunction: An Early Warning Sign

The endothelium also acts like a maintenance crew that prevents atherosclerosis plaques from developing. Damage to the endothelium occurs before blockages from atherosclerosis appear.

Doctors have long recognized erectile dysfunction as an "early warning sign" for atherosclerosis. Difficulty with erections usually means atherosclerosis is developing. Erectile dysfunction can also mean atherosclerosis is already present, in the arteries of the heart or brain.

Most men with erectile dysfunction have risk factors for atherosclerosis, including:

  • High cholesterol levels
  • Cigarette smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Diabetes seems to be particularly hard on the arteries in the penis. As many as half of diabetic men in their 50s report some degree of impotence.

For these reasons, erectile dysfunction is a red flag that demands attention. Experts agree that all men with ED should undergo "risk profiling" for atherosclerosis of the heart.

Of course, other factors besides atherosclerosis can cause erectile dysfunction. Problems with nerves, hormones, and emotional factors must be ruled out. Seeing a doctor can sort this out.

Atherosclerosis and Erectile Dysfunction: Temporary Treatments

So far, there is no proof that treating atherosclerosis improves erectile dysfunction. Oral drugs available for erectile dysfunction are among a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase inhibitors:

These drugs work by improving blood flow into the penis temporarily. However, they don't improve the underlying problem in erectile dysfunction. They also don't prevent or treat atherosclerosis elsewhere in the body.

The only way to slow down or prevent atherosclerosis is to reduce your risk factors. Don't smoke. Get your cholesterol and blood pressure under control. Exercise regularly. Eat right.

Erectile dysfunction can be the "canary in the coal mine" for serious complications of atherosclerosis. If you suffer from poor erections or impotence, take it seriously. See your doctor, and ask if more than your sex life may be at risk.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 13, 2012
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