DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am 58 and asked my doctor for a prescription for erectile dysfunction. He recommended I also have tests done to evaluate my heart. How are ED and heart disease related?
ANSWER: In some cases, erectile dysfunction, or ED, may be an early warning sign of heart disease. It is often a good idea for men diagnosed with ED to have tests to make sure that ED is not a symptom of a heart condition. That is especially true if you have risk factors that increase your chances of developing heart problems. If a heart condition is found, treatment for that disorder also may help reverse ED.
The connection between ED and heart disease involves a condition known as atherosclerosis — sometimes called hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis happens when plaques build up in your arteries. When plaques start to accumulate, the smaller arteries in the body, including those in the penis, are the first to get plugged up. The plaque lowers blood flow in the penis, making an erection difficult.
Erectile dysfunction alerts doctors to look for atherosclerosis in larger arteries that supply your heart and other organs and, if found, to take steps to treat atherosclerosis. In addition to heart problems, atherosclerosis also increases your risk of other serious health problems, including aneurysm, stroke and peripheral artery disease.