Erectile dysfunction is a common health issue affecting sexual activity of men. Did you know that the condition can be an early warning sign of an underlying heart disease?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve and sustain an erection suitable for sexual intercourse. Having occasional erection troubles is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if erectile dysfunction is an ongoing problem and occurs more than 50% of the time, it can indicate a medical issue. ED affects about 30 million men in the U.S.

Atherosclerosis or plaque build-up in the arteries that blocks the blood supply to the penis can be one of the causes of erectile dysfunction. The link between ED and heart disease is that both conditions can be caused due to narrowing of arteries.

Health conditions such as stroke, diabetes or neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis that damage nerve impulses to the penis can also cause ED. Other risk factors include age, stress, depression, fatigue and trauma.

A person who has ED but without any obvious symptoms of trauma or any other factors that cause the dysfunction is recommended to be screened for heart disease. Similarly, if a person has heart disease, taking the right treatment might help prevent erectile dysfunction.

Ways to prevent ED

1. Quit smoking - Smoking increases the risk of atherosclerosis and the development of ED. Stopping cigarette smoking can improve the symptoms. The age and the severity of the ED before quitting smoking are inversely related to the chance of improvement.

2. Watch what you eat - Include whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and lean meats in the diet. To prevent ED, it is recommended to avoid excessive use of alcohol, saturated fat and sodium in the diet.

3. Maintain a healthy weight - Obese people are more likely to get high cholesterol levels and diabetes, which can potentially lead to erection issues. Maintaining a healthy weight also prevents diabetes and hypertension which can be precursors to ED. It also helps to reduce inflammation, increase testosterone levels and boost self-esteem, which may help prevent ED.

4. Exercise regularly - Aerobic exercises such as running and swimming can help ED. Studies have shown that physical activity increases blood flow to all areas of the body, including the penis.

5. Avoid illicit drugs - The use of illicit drugs may prevent the body from getting the sensation of arousal. The drugs may also mask other psychological, emotional or physical factors that may be causing the ED.