The Link Between Erectile Dysfunction and Your Heart Health

Could ED be an early indicator of a more serious condition?

Updated: Tuesday 25 October 2022

ED and your Heart Health

Erectile dysfunction will affect the majority of men at least once in their lives. [1] Although it’s a common condition, ED should still be taken very seriously as it can be an early sign of other health conditions in some men. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between ED and other conditions related to blood flow such as heart disease, as well as outlining their shared risk factors and what you can do about it.

What’s the link between ED and your heart?

Since erections are enabled by increased blood flow to the penis, any condition that worsens blood circulation around the body may make ED more likely. Similarly, experiencing erectile dysfunction may indicate a more serious health condition related to blood flow, such as heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood sugar from diabetes, or atherosclerosis (hardening or blocked arteries). [2]

Because it’s not uncommon for ED to be one of the first indicators of a blood flow issue, it’s worth making sure you know why you’re experiencing ED. If your ED is due to psychological reasons, such as stress, anxiety or past trauma, it is less likely that it is indicative of a wider health issue. Some men with ED can get erections when they’re on their own, just not with their partner - this means that your circulation and blood flow to the penis is sufficient to get an erection given the right circumstances, and therefore it’s unlikely to indicate a condition like heart disease.

For most men, however, ED is caused by a physical factor. This could be an issue affecting the nerves to the penis, an injury or operation to the penis or prostate, but is more likely due to inadequate blood circulation. If you are unable to achieve an erection in any circumstances (with a partner, on your own or in your sleep), then reduced blood flow is the most likely explanation. The build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries (atherosclerosis) is often the culprit for narrowing and hardening the arteries, increasing blood pressure and reducing circulation. This increases your chance of coronary heart disease which may lead to problems such as heart attacks. [3]

What risk factors do ED and heart disease share?

ED and heart disease have many shared risk factors, some of which can be controlled and improved upon with lifestyle changes or medication.

  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Low Testosterone
  • Tobacco Use
  • Alcohol Use

How do I know if I have heart disease?

If you have heart disease, it may not be clear from the outset. However, there are several symptoms that you should take seriously if you experience them, as they could be heart disease indicators. [4] These include the following:

  • Chest pain and feeling sick - this is a classic sign of a heart attack.
  • Stomach pain or indigestion
  • Sweating when you haven’t exercised or it’s not a hot day, along with chest pains
  • Arm pain, especially the left arm, or neck pain that doesn’t go away
  • Jaw or back pain
  • Restricting or choking sensation in the throat

There are other, less serious health conditions besides heart disease that could be responsible for the above symptoms, but it’s not worth the risk of waiting to find out. If you have chest pain (a feeling of heaviness, tightness or pressure) and feel unwell, you should call 999 immediately. For the other symptoms, it’s best to call the NHS on 111 for advice.

How to prevent and treat atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the result of high blood cholesterol levels over time, accumulating fatty plaques that narrow the walls of the blood vessels. High cholesterol can be prevented or treated by making certain lifestyle changes or by taking medication.

Adjusting your diet should be one of the first points of call. You should cut out saturated fats that raise your blood cholesterol levels, such as sausages and fatty cuts of meat, butter, cream, cakes and biscuits, and replace them with small amounts of food with unsaturated fats, such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils and spreads. You can try poaching, steaming or microwaving foods instead of roasting or frying them to reduce the total amount of fat intake. Make sure to get plenty of fibre in your diet, found in wholemeal bread and whole grains, fruit and vegetables, oats, pulses, nuts and seeds, and potatoes with the skins on. [5]

Having an active lifestyle is likely to lower your blood cholesterol levels too. Make sure you’re doing at least the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, and do aerobic exercise to get your heart rate up.

You can read our article to find out more about the relationship between ED and high cholesterol here.

How to treat ED caused by heart disease

Reducing the negative impact of the previously listed risk factors can increase your likelihood of overcoming ED naturally. Try to stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake, exercise regularly and be conscious of balancing your diet.

There are tried and tested erectile dysfunction oral medications that can overcome the effect of other health conditions on achieving erections. PDE5 inhibitors prevent the early release of the erection-diminishing hormone, and help with increased blood flow.

Viagra is the most popular brand of erectile dysfunction treatment and contains the active ingredient Sildenafil which is also available as a generic medication. These treatments are prescribed, but you can get Viagra Connect (which also contains sildenafil) over the counter.

Some men respond better to different types of PDE5 inhibitor, so it’s also worth trying Cialis (containing Tadalafil), Levitra (containing Vardenafil) or Spedra (containing Avanafil) to see which works best for your body.

Want to test one treatment type against another? Why not try our customisable ED Trial Pack.

Click below to see our full range of erectile dysfunction treatments.

Toby Watson

Written by: Toby Watson

Pharmica Medical Writer

Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.

He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.

Find out more about how we ensure the accuracy of our content with our content guidelines.

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