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Erectile dysfunction: the little known indicator of heart disease

Heart disease is the single biggest killer of men in the United Kingdom. Every year, around 50,000 are killed by heart disease. One of the reasons for these high numbers is that often the first time we know there is something wrong with our heart, it’s when we’re having a heart attack.

It’s this lack of warning that something is wrong that makes many men fail to heed the advice that could help them prevent heart disease in the future, whether it’s making sure to eat healthily, exercise more or drink less. However, even though not all of the warning signs of heart disease are obvious, there are some important signs to look out for that could well indicate a deeper problem that needs addressing.

In particular because arteries in the penis are only about half the size of arteries in the heart, erectile dysfunction can be an indicator of a problem with a man’s heart – and is considered to be the best indicator of problems that could affect a man in the future. This is why it is so important to go and talk to your doctor if you are affected by erectile dysfunction. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something wrong with your heart, but you can still take the opportunity not just to treat the erectile dysfunction, but to also get your heart checked and get some advice from your doctor.

Despite the fact erectile dysfunction is so well-known among doctors as an indicator of potential heart disease, it still isn’t really common knowledge among most men. One of the reasons for this is likely to be the embarrassment that men – possibly including doctors – feel about discussing the issue.

However, it is important that we talk about this as it could potentially save your life. Last year, there was a meeting at Parliament where Dr Graham Jackson, a cardiologist, highlighted the important research on this issue. For instance, erectile dysfunction is as useful as family history when it comes to predicting future heart disease, and it is a better predictor than levels of cholesterol.

Also, there was a study called the Massachusetts Male Ageing Study that found men who had erectile dysfunction were 43% more likely to die from heart disease than men who didn’t have it. Erectile dysfunction can present years before any other symptoms that might indicate heart disease (such as pain following exercise or symptoms as extreme as a heart attack).

This means that if you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, you should definitely go to a doctor. Some men might be tempted to self-medicate, but this is unlikely to solve the problem or address the underlying causes. Plus, you need to make sure any potential side-effects of erectile dysfunction drugs (Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra) are reported to your doctor.

It could well be that your erectile dysfunction is down to an issue such as depression, stress, smoking, too much alcohol, or simply not being in the mood for sex. It’s something that many men experience and is often completely normal, but it’s worth checking with your GP just in case. You can never be too careful.