Even after accounting for these factors, they found that erectile dysfunction contributed independently to a higher risk of heart problems.
Other risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, did not play a role in the findings.
The findings, derived from almost 2,000 men, back up an array of evidence in recent years that has shown a link between ED and heart disease. In the latest study, Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research for the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, and his colleagues did the most rigorous analysis yet to account for the potentially confounding factors. They ultimately found that erectile dysfunction is indeed a risk factor for heart disease.
But the results of the new study provide the strongest indication to date that it can be a tell-tale sign of a heightened cardiovascular risk.
The study was published on June 11 in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.
Roughly 30 million American men suffer from ED. Not all cases of ED can be treated with prescription medicine, and those cases that can be treated can often come with side effects.
About 1 in 5 men over age 20 has trouble sustaining an erection, the researchers noted.
How Did Researchers Find This Cardiovascular Connection?
Their four-year study concluded that men whose impotence is vascular-related, not emotional, are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
The findings suggest doctors should aggressively manage other risks such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol in men with erectile dysfunction, said Blaha. The participants were of various ethnic, racial, and geographic backgrounds. Over four years, 115 men had a serious heart problem, such as heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest.
Cardiovascular disease and ED share common risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, smoking, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a condition marked by a cluster of features such as elevated blood sugar, hypertension and excess abdominal fat, according to the research. Among the men who reported the cardiovascular issues, 6.3 percent had ED and 2.6 did not have ED.
Blaha suggested a visit to a doctor or a preventive cardiologist.
Although ED is not a direct cause of cardiovascular health risks, it is a sign that middle-aged men should not ignore. That means that urologists who normally treat men for the condition should be open to referring their patients to heart experts, who can asses them for possible signs of early heart disease.
"While there are effective treatments for ED, one must never overlook an opportunity to ask a simple question: 'Why?' In addition, men should be aware of the potential implications of ED and inform their provider", Becker said. There are usually different specialists involved and different treatment methods.
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