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Men's Health > erectile dysfunction > erectile dysfunction warnings

ED a warning sign

Erectile dysfunction is sometimes more than just an issue that negatively impacts a man's quality of life -- it can also be an early sign of heart problems or blood vessel problems, according to experts.

Consequently, men need to tell their doctors as soon as they develop erectile dysfunction (ED), so their doctors can order additional tests to make sure their heart and blood vessels are healthy, lead author Dr. Kevin Billups of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis stated. "I really feel that ED is a barometer of a man's overall cardiovascular health," Billups noted. "When you have difficulty keeping a firm erection, that's when you really need to go in."

The penis-heart link explained

ED is often caused by problems in the body's blood vessels, Billups explained. If blood vessel problems are causing high blood pressure or cholesterol -- so-called "silent" conditions -- men may not know it. But if those impaired blood vessels also impact erections, men will know, he added. "A man knows if he has difficulty maintaining an erection," Billups said, and that erection problem could be his first clue something more serious is going on.

In the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Billups and his team write that, despite recent medical advances, cardiovascular disease remains a significant problem throughout the world. This is particularly true in African-Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups, who are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the authors note.

Recently, Billups and a team of cardiologists and urologists met to discuss the connection between ED and cardiovascular disease, and how doctors can use this relationship to detect heart and blood vessel problems at an earlier stage. The meeting was sponsored Pfizer, maker of the ED drug Viagra.

In an interview, Billups said that he and his colleagues decided that every doctor should ask male patients 25 and older about ED. If men are having erectile problems, they should undergo additional testing, to rule out cardiovascular disease.

He said he and his colleagues chose 25 as a cutoff point because doctors see both ED and cardiovascular disease in young men, and national cholesterol guidelines recommend starting to check cholesterol after age 20.

"If people were to ask (about ED) at younger ages, they might find problems earlier on," he said.

Drew Voight

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