Even minor problems in the bedroom could serve as a red flag for "silent" heart disease, according to a new study of 95,000 men. Besides signaling a bad heart, a man's erectile dysfunction can also mean that he is at an increased risk of premature death.
The latest study from Australia is the world's largest to examine the link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease.
The findings show that men with erectile dysfunction have a higher risk of hospital admission for heart disease, even if they have no history of heart problems. Furthermore, men with problems in the bedroom also have an increased risk of premature death from any cause.
"The large number of men in the study meant we could also look at the risks in relation to different types of cardiovascular disease," lead author Professor Emily Banks said in a statement. "We found men with erectile dysfunction were at higher risk of heart attack, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and heart conduction problems."
The study published in the journal PLOS Medicine Jan. 29 also found that the more severe a man's erectile problems, the greater his risk for heart disease and premature death.
"The risks of future heart disease and premature death increased steadily with severity of erectile dysfunction, both in men with and without a history of cardiovascular disease Banks said.
While previous studies have shown that men with severe erectile dysfunction are significantly more likely than those with no erectile difficulties to have cardiovascular events such as heart disease or stroke, the latest study is the first to study the gradients of erectile dysfunction from none, to mild, moderate and severe forms.
Banks explained that rather than causing heart disease, problems in the privates is more likely a symptom or signal of cardiovascular disease and could in the future become a useful marker to help doctors predict the risk of heart problems.
"This is a sensitive topic but men shouldn't suffer in silence; there are many effective treatments, both for erectile dysfunction and for cardiovascular disease," she said.
Researchers said that erection problems are very common and about one in five men over the age of 39 report suffering moderate or severe erectile dysfunction.
"These results tell us that every man who is suffering from any degree of erectile dysfunction should be seeking medical assistance as early as possible and also insisting on a heart health check by their GP at the same time," Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Health Director Dr Rob Grenfell said in a statement.