Sexual problems might mean you have a broken heart, literally. The most common sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED affects up to 30 million men in the United States. Surprisingly, ED might be a sign of heart problems. It is important to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Not only can your doctor prescribe medications to improve sexual function, but together you may be able to prevent a major heart problem like a heart attack. This article outlines the steps that you should take if you think you have ED.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Early work in this field, performed by Masters and Johnson in 1966, involved evaluation of young patients in a laboratory setting and found that heart rates and systolic blood pressure levels during sexual activity approached levels seen during maximal exercise.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
Control your blood sugar through your diet. Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will help you better control your blood sugar levels and lessen the amount of damage to your blood vessels and nerves. A proper diet geared at keeping your blood sugar levels in check can also improve your energy levels and mood, both of which can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. You may consider working with a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to help adjust your eating style.
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or have already had a heart attack and are experiencing erectile dysfunction, it is critical that you discuss erectile dysfunction medication with your physician before considering taking it. Popular erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil) can interact with a range of cardiovascular disease medications. Interactions are possible with blood pressure medications; blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), nitrates for the treatment of chest pain, and antiarrhythmia medication for the treatment of irregular heart rhythms.
The phrase “use it before you lose it” can be applied when it comes to helping men with ED regain normal erectile function. Pelvic exercises, more commonly known as kegel exercises, are used to promote urinary continence and sexual health. They help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, it pumps during ejaculation, and it helps empty the urethra after urination, according to Healthline.
Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of heart disease. An erection is caused by engorgement of blood into the penile tissues which later becomes rigid for penetration. Men with heart problem suffer from an inadequate blood flow to the smooth tissues of the penis to achieve erection. A major cardiovascular disease known as Atherosclerosis is a result of fat accumulation in the arterial blood vessels. This build up of multiple plaques or fatty material causes the arteries to narrow and harden thus limiting blood flow. The arteries supplying your penis are smaller than those supplying your heart. In fact, ED can be an initial symptom of heart diseases like Atherosclerosis. Cardiovascular problems can also damage penile nerves and arteries, inhibiting erectile function. Experts found a consistent link between ED and heart disease. Other recent research conducted by health professionals has shown a direct connection between erection dysfunctions and heart problems.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a study of 132 patients evaluated by penile duplex ultrasonography after intracorporeal papaverine injection found that hypertension alone was not an independent risk factor for vasculogenic ED.34x34Shabsigh, R, Fishman, IJ, Schum, C, and Dunn, JK. Cigarette smoking and other vascular risk factors in vasculogenic impotence. Urology. 1991; 38: 227–231

Furthermore, if feelings of sadness, bloating, or weight gain are prominent, it may be beneficial to measure a form of estrogen called estradiol. This form of estrogen can be elevated in men, particularly in those who are overweight, and may trigger these abnormal responses, increasing the risk of heart disease. Estradiol levels above 30 pg/mL are generally considered abnormal. Weight loss can help correct elevated estradiol, as can prescription “aromatase inhibitors,” such as Arimidex®. In addition, a nutritional supplement called chrysin has been shown in the laboratory to inhibit the aromatase enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone to estradiol.24 You should consult your doctor to determine if this supplement may be helpful for you.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913

When dealing with certain medical conditions, it is important to focus treatment toward the root of the problem. If you were to properly manage your high blood pressure without the use of any confounding medications and instead employ a lifestyle change, both ailments would likely disappear. While this would be the ideal case, it isn’t the reality for most patients. Medications are great for controlling high blood pressure, but it’s important to speak with your doctor about any concerns before taking them.
Unlike intraurethral suppositories, intracavernosal injection (IC) injection of vasoactive agents such as PGE-1 has consistently been shown to be effective in the treatment of ED in men with diabetes. In a study of 336 men with diabetes-related ED, 83% of patients reported erections satisfactory for intercourse after IC injection of PGE-1.55 Unfortunately, 24% of these patients also reported penile pain, one of the most common side effects of IC injection therapy. Other studies have noted similar effectiveness rates.56,57
Hyperlipidemia has been implicated in the development of ED by several different mechanisms. Hyperlipidemia is associated with development of atherosclerotic blood vessel disease, thus contributing to vasculogenic impotence. Penile vascular changes have been noted in impotent patients with elevated serum lipids.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
80. Montorsi F, Briganti A, Salonia A, Rigatti P, Margonato A, Macchi A, Galli S, Ravagnani PM, Montorsi P. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 2003;44:360–364; discussion 364-365. [PubMed]
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, six-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, affecting almost 40% of men over 40 years of age (with varying degrees of severity) and increases in frequency with age.1 Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease (CVD) share common risk factors including age, hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, insulin resistance and diabetes, smoking, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sedentary lifestyle, and depression.2 Cardiovascular disease and ED also share a common pathophysiological basis of aetiology and progression.3 Numerous studies have established that ED (i) is frequent in men with established CVD, (ii) co-exists with occult coronary artery disease (CAD) and (iii) is an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular (CV) events both in men with established CVD and in men with no known CVD.2,4,5 In the latter group, ED precedes CAD, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease by a significant period that usually ranges from 2 to 5 years (average 3 years).2 Although the ED patient can be managed by various medical specialties, and preferably a collaborative approach is most effective, this review is oriented to the cardiologist. While this review deals exclusively with sexual health of men, female sexual health and its potential relation with CVD is also an interesting, yet underexplored, field. As in men, moderating common risk factors seems to improve female sexual health and may serve as an opportunity to decrease CVD risk, with the identification of sexual dysfunction being the starting point.6

Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33

Despite physician’s inexperience and patient’s reluctance to disclose sexual dysfunction problems, attempts to estimate the magnitude of this clinical condition have predicted that over 150 million men worldwide experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. Several studies have demonstrated a wide range regarding the prevalence of erectile dysfunction, which is even higher in patients with essential hypertension where the relative risk is approximately two times higher than in normotensive individuals[6-11]. The etiology can be found in the structural and functional abnormalities of the penile arteries induced by high blood pressure. Smooth muscle hypertrophy, stenotic lesions due to atherosclerosis and impaired blood flow are among the prominent structural alterations whereas endothelial dysfunction and the defective nitric oxide-induced vasodilatory mechanism belong to the main functional abnormalities induced by increased blood pressure[12,13]. As a matter of fact, sexual dysfunction is encountered more frequently that it is indeed believed underlining the need for a more proper and concrete assessment.


Red Ginseng — One small randomized trial found evidence that red ginseng may offer modest improvements in ED symptoms (as compared with placebo). A meta-anaylsis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology states, “Traditionally red ginseng has been used to restore and enhance normal well-being, and is often referred to as an adaptogenic….Possible mechanisms of action of red ginseng include hormonal effects similar to those of testosterone. Others have postulated that red ginseng might induce relaxation of the smooth muscles.”  (5)

The development of PDE5-inhibitors is a clear example of how Western medicine approached the problem of ED differently from Eastern medicine. The erectogenic effect of sildenafil (Viagra®) was discovered by accident when patients undergoing heart clinical trials reported better erections as a side effect after taking sildenafil. This observation led to further elucidation of the NO/cGMP signalling pathway and development of PDE5-inhibitors as a first-line therapy in ED (5).
No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.
×