ED: The Canary in the Coal Mine
Erectile function can be thought of as an indicator of overall men’s health. Having trouble with erections? This may be indicative of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Most people know preventing and/or treating heart disease can help one live longer. At the very least, it can prevent a heart attack.
Risk factors for heart disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, drinking alcohol to excess, and smoking. These conditions can cause plaque buildup in the arteries, causing them to narrow and stiffen, resulting in decreased blood flow to the heart. This can potentially cause a heart attack.
But did you know that men with erectile dysfunction may also have heart disease? That’s right! All risk factors for erectile dysfunction are the same as risk factors for heart disease. In the same way that the body forms narrowing plaques in the arteries of men with heart disease, it also narrows the arteries to the penis and causes men to experience weaker erections. In fact, men with erectile dysfunction are 50% more likely to be at risk of heart disease.
Signs of erectile dysfunction can be an early warning sign that a heart attack is on the horizon. This is because the penile arteries are smaller than the arteries of the heart, and are therefore more likely to get clogged faster than the heart’s arteries, sending warning signals sooner that the same body is at risk of suffering a heart attack. Think of your penis as being the canary sent down the mine shaft – it’s an early indicator of what may come later in life.
So what does this mean? Aside from taking measures to reduce risk factors for heart disease and erectile dysfunction, if you have erectile dysfunction, you should be seen by a physician. Not only will you receive treatment for your erectile dysfunction, but you may also be preventing future risk of heart disease and heart attack. Think of it as killing two birds with one stone.
Some heart disease medications can cause ED
Most people who have heart disease take blood pressure-reducing medications. The following blood pressure-reducing medications have an elevated risk of causing ED:
- Beta-blockers including metoprolol (Lopressor), atenolol (Tenormin), propranolol (Inderal), and bisoprolol (Zebeta)
- Alpha-blockers including doxazosin, prazosin, and terazosin
- Calcium channel blockers including amlodipine, diltiazem, verapamil, and nifedipine
That said, maintaining good heart health is a priority over sexual health, so follow your doctor’s orders if they prescribe blood pressure-reducing medication for your situation. ED medications can be taken safely with the medications listed above. You don’t need to compromise your sexual health to maintain your overall health.
The following blood pressure-reducing medications have a lower risk of causing ED:
- ACE inhibitors including lisinopril, benazepril, enalapril, ramipril, and quinapril
- ARBs including losartan, irbesartan, and valsartan
Statins may help your erectile function
Cholesterol-lowering drugs like atorvastatin, simvastatin, and rosuvastatin do not cause ED, and may improve erectile function in men with ED who take these medications. The statin helps with heart health, so it can be a win-win situation.
Nitrates and oral medications for ED don’t mix
Heart patients are often treated with drugs called oral nitrates, such as Nitro-Dur and Isordil, in addition to other medications. Men on nitrates cannot take oral medications for ED like Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or Levitra (vardenafil), because the combination can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure and death.
However, there are other ED treatments that are OK to take with oral nitrates, such as trimix or bimix injections and intraurethral gels, or use of a vacuum erection device. Tell your physician about all of the medications you’re currently taking. There is likely a combination of heart and ED treatments you can use to live a happy, healthy life.
Tariq S. Hakky M.S., M.D.
Atlanta Cosmetic Urology
371 E. Paces Ferry Road Suite 550
Atlanta, GA. 30305
Phone: (404) 400-3120