Erectile Dysfunction, Artery Problems Linked?

ED May Be a Warning Sign of Early Artery Disease

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 11, 2005 -- Erectile dysfunction may be an early warning sign of coronary artery disease, even in men without typical risk factors, new research shows.

In a small study done in Italy, men with erectile dysfunction showed more signs of being on the road to coronary artery disease than men without erectile dysfunction.

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle. If those arteries harden and narrow, it's harder for blood to get through, depriving the heart muscle of oxygen. That can lead to chest pain and heart attacks. Over time, coronary artery disease can also contribute to heart failure and irregular heart beats, states the NHLBI.

Red Flag?

Bigger studies are needed, notes researcher Emilio Chiurlia, PhD. Meanwhile, he offers this advice:

"Erectile dysfunction should be part of a cardiovascular risk assessment. These patients should be considered at high risk for coronary artery disease and should have high priority for aggressive treatment," says Chiurlia, in a news release.

Chiurlia works for the Institute of Cardiology at Italy's University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The study appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

ED, Artery Health

It's "not a surprise" that erectile dysfunction and artery problems can go hand in hand, the researchers note.

Erectile dysfunction often stems from blood vessel problems tied to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, the researchers write.

They probed that connection by studying 143 men living in Italy.

All of the men were white, had similar heart health profiles, and didn't have known coronary artery disease. Seventy men were being treated for erectile dysfunction at a local clinic. Erectile dysfunction related to blood flow was verified with special Doppler testing.

Study's Findings

None of the men had coronary artery disease -- at least, not yet.

However, men with erectile dysfunction were more likely to show three early warning signs of coronary artery disease:

  • Higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is used as a marker of inflammation.
  • Abnormal blood vessel response to changes in blood flow.
  • Calcium deposits in heart arteries (coronary artery calcifications).

"We think that erectile dysfunction represents the 'tip of the iceberg' of a systemic vascular disorder, thus potentially preceding severe cardiovascular events," says Chiurlia, in the news release.

More studies need to be done to track men with erectile dysfunction to see if heart disease develops, he adds.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 11, 2005


SOURCES: Chiurlia, E. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Oct. 18, 2005; vol 46: pp 1503-1506. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "What Is Coronary Artery Disease?" News release, American College of Cardiology. WebMD Medical News: "Calcium Scans May Reveal Heart Risks."
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