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Doc Talk: What’s the connection between heart disease and erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (difficulty maintain an erection during sex) is a lesser-known early warning sign of heart disease in men. But what is the connection between these two conditions?    

“When plaque builds up in your arteries, it affects your heart,” said Dr. Kevin M. Young, a Saint Thomas Heart cardiologist. “Many of the smallest arteries in your body are in the penis. They are the first to get clogged with plaque, so erectile dysfunction may be an early symptom of heart disease.” 

The condition where plaque builds up in your arteries is called Atherosclerosis. In addition to affecting your arteries, which supply your heart and other organs with blood, it can increase your risk of other conditions, such as strokes and aneurysm. 

So how can you tell if erectile dysfunction is related to heart disease, or to another cause? Having these risk factors increases the chance that it might be a sign of heart problems:  

  • Other health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure; 
  • Lifestyle factors, such as smoking cigarettes; 
  • A family history of heart disease, especially if a close relative (a parent or sibling) had heart disease at a young age; 
  • Age, as the younger you are, the more likely it is that erectile dysfunction is related to heart disease.   

If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction and any of these risk factors apply, it may be time to see your physician. He or she can recommend lifestyle changes that will help keep your heart healthy (and thus improve blood flow everywhere else). Or, in the case of more serious symptoms, you’ll be able to work with your physician to start addressing heart problems now, rather than later.    

For more information about Saint Thomas Health, please visit Young practices in Franklin and Columbia, Tenn. To schedule appointment at either office, please call 615-565-6670.   


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