Erectile dysfunction (ED) may be the elephant in the (bed)room, but many men actually suffer from it. It now affects at least 30 million men in the United States, and at least 10 percent of the male population could experience it in their lifetime.
For many of them, nothing seems more embarrassing than getting their member up and pleasuring their partners. In reality, not sustaining an erection for sex is just one of their worries. They could be at risk of heart disease.
What’s the Connection of ED with Heart Disease?
Many factors can cause ED. It can range from genetics to psychological, such as trauma or lack of self-esteem. But it may also be preceded by damage to the blood vessels, which may also happen to the heart.
Two of the primary blood vessels in the body are the arteries, which send blood away from the heart, and the veins, which deliver deoxygenated blood back to the hollow muscular organ. Both are found in the penis.
To maintain an erection, the penile region needs a significant amount of blood supply. To deliver it, however, the body gets into a cascade of changes:
- The person gets aroused, which activates the production of nitric oxide, a chemical that opens up the blood vessels and stimulates an enzyme known as guanylate cyclase, which signals an erection.
- The muscles in the penis relax, and the blood vessels in the area widen to allow more blood from the arteries to flow.
- The blood fills up the masses of erectile tissue called corpora cavernosa, which then presses against the veins to stop them from bringing the blood back to the heart. This then helps create and sustain an erection.
- The male reproductive organ then goes back to being flaccid once the veins open up again.
Before, many experts believed that ED happens when arterial plaque, which usually consists of cholesterol and calcium, builds up in the walls of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis). Eventually, the deposit will make these vessels narrow, constricting the blood supply to the penis and the heart.
However, others now think that the problem lies in the smooth muscles and the endothelium, or the blood vessels’ inner lining. When they become damaged, they can cause changes in the contraction and dilation of the vessels.
These may trigger the buildup or the worsening of atherosclerosis in many areas of the body, including the heart and the penis, due to permeability of the lining and the poor production of nitric oxide, which comes from the endothelial cells.
Sharing Risk Factors
Both ED and heart disease also have common risk factors. Two of these are obesity and diabetes.
In a 2008 study in Nature, overweight or obese males are 30 to 90 percent more likely to develop ED than those who are in their normal weight. Meanwhile, a 2011 research shared that carrying about 20 pounds more than the ideal weight could already increase the odds of cardiovascular disease by 12 percent.
When it comes to diabetes, the prevalence of ED among men with the disease ranges from 27 to 75 percent. On the other hand, the National Heart Association revealed that at least 65 percent of males with diabetes may likely die of stroke or heart issues.
Obesity is now considered a risk factor for diabetes, which occurs when the body can no longer control the levels of glucose and insulin production. The abnormal presence of sugar in the blood can cause gradual damage to the endothelial linings.
Both are also related to low-grade chronic inflammation, which leads to the buildup of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood. Known as bad cholesterol, it is a common component in arterial deposits. Inflammation can also gradually damage cells and disrupt their functions.
Fortunately, ED and heart disease are manageable and treatable. Those with ED can undergo procedures like shockwave therapy treatment, which is a painless non-invasive procedure that involves delivering soundwaves to the affected organ to induce healing and regeneration of the cells and tissues. This process works for both ED and cardiovascular disease.
Meanwhile, in 2019, the University of Manchester performed a sheep study and discovered that a drug commonly used in treating ED, Viagra (tadalafil), may help reverse or slow down the progression of heart failure.
A Swedish study, on the other hand, cited how the same drug could decrease the risk of another heart attack and increase longevity among men diagnosed with heart problems.
Not all men with ED have heart disease and vice versa, but having symptoms of either may need more investigation. The problem may be more than an unsustainable erection.