Failing erections may point to heart problems


Reuters US Online Report Health News

Sep 12, 2011 17:19 EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Impotence could be a harbinger of heart disease in some men, according to a fresh look at the medical literature that found the two often go together.

But it’s not all bad news. Another study out today suggests heart-healthy lifestyle changes or cholesterol-lowering drugs could have a positive effect on men’s sexual health.

Scientists have known about the link between impotence, or erectile dysfunction, and heart health for years. Although there is no proof so far, a common theory is that arteries supplying the penis with blood during erections may clog up earlier than those in the heart, which are larger — thus providing an early warning of possible coronary artery disease down the road.

Heart disease is the leading killer worldwide, and erectile dysfunction is estimated to affect some 322 million men by 2025.

To investigate the connection between the two, Jia-Yi Dong of Soochow University in Suzhou, China, and colleagues combined twelve earlier studies of impotence and heart disease, including nearly 37,000 men.

The researchers found that men with erectile problems had a 48-percent increase in their risk of developing heart disease, and also had higher death rates than men who didn’t have sexual problems.

Traditional risk factors like smoking, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure didn’t explain the link, the Chinese team reports in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

That strengthens the case that impotence, when it isn’t due to partnership problems or other psychological issues, is a risk factor for heart disease in its own right.

In the other study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers surveying earlier work found that both lifestyle changes and statins appeared to improve men’s erectile problems — although only a little.

Men who exercised more or were put on a Mediterranean diet rich in whole grain, fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, for instance, reported a 2.4-point improvement on a 25-point scale of erectile problems.

Those put on cholesterol-lowering statins, used to treat heart disease, saw a similar improvement of 3.1 points, according to Dr. Bhanu Gupta and colleagues of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The results are based on six trials with 740 participants.

While that improvement might not be meaningful for all men, the researchers say, their findings “strengthen existing knowledge that healthy dietary habits and increased physical activity are important components of health to improve quality of life in men by improving sexual health.”

They add that lifestyle changes appear to work regardless of whether men are taking Viagra, the most common drug to treat impotence, or not.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, online September 12, 2011 and Journal of the American College of Cardiology, online September 12, 2011.

Source: Reuters US Online Report Health News

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