Erectile dysfunction: A sign of heart disease?

The same process that creates heart disease may also cause erectile dysfunction, only earlier.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Erectile dysfunction — the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex — can be an early warning sign of current or future heart problems. Likewise, if you have heart disease, getting the right treatment might help with erectile dysfunction. Understand the connection and what you can do about it.

How are erectile dysfunction and heart problems linked?

In the past, the buildup of plaques in the arteries of your body (atherosclerosis) was believed to be the reason why erectile dysfunction often precedes heart problems. The idea was that plaque buildup reduces blood flow in the penis, making an erection difficult.

However, experts now believe that erectile dysfunction preceding heart problems is more often due to the dysfunction of the inner lining of the blood vessels (endothelium) and smooth muscle. Endothelial dysfunction causes inadequate blood supply to the heart and impaired blood flow to the penis, and aids in the development of atherosclerosis.

How strong is the connection between erectile dysfunction and heart problems?

Erectile dysfunction does not always indicate an underlying heart problem. However, research suggests that men with erectile dysfunction who have no obvious cause, such as trauma, and who have no symptoms of heart problems should be screened for heart disease before starting any treatment.

Aug. 01, 2015 See more In-depth