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Standing Firm

Posted 6/20/2017 by UHBlog

It’s frustrating enough when you can’t get it up, but erectile dysfunction may also be an early warning sign of other serious health problems. Talk to us.

Standing Firm

The chronic inability to get or sustain an erection may affect more than 30 million American men. Although ongoing erectile dysfunction (ED) can result from a variety of physical and mental conditions, it can be a warning sign of an impending cardiovascular problem, says urologist Kiranpreet Khurana, MD.

“We strongly recommend that men who come in with erectile dysfunction get a full medical workup,” Dr. Khurana says. “Medical problems that can be related to ED include heart failure, cardiovascular disease, other vascular problems in the legs and high blood pressure. It also can be associated with mental health.”

The connection between your penis and your heart is in the pipes.

“Erections involve three things – blood flow, nerves and a signal from the brain,” Dr. Khurana says. “When restricted blood flow is the culprit, there could be an overall problem with your arteries. The penis has very small arteries compared to the heart. When you get arteriosclerosis – the thickening, hardening and loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries – it will affect the smaller arteries before it affects the large arteries.”

Blood flow restrictions could be responsible for as many as 60 percent of ED cases in men over the age of 60, Dr. Khurana says.

“Having erectile dysfunction doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have a heart attack, but there is a relationship that should be checked out,” she says. “Symptoms of cardiovascular disease can lag ED by two or three years. A physical exam can help you to get out in front of a potentially serious problem.”

Aside from cardiovascular conditions, erectile dysfunction may also be related to other general health issues.

“ED can also signify mental health issues,” Dr. Khurana says. “It can result from a high level of stress, anxiety or depression. Certain medications can affect erectile function as well, so it isn’t only about heart health. It's also about mental health, as well as medication management.”

She says guys may typically notice mild forms of ED as early as their 20s, but the condition generally becomes more significant after age 60.

“Erectile dysfunction isn’t necessarily an inevitable part of getting older,” she says. “It signifies some sort of an issue. If you are completely healthy, you should be able to enjoy a healthy sexual life, even in your older age.”

Depending on the cause, there are a variety of treatments available for erectile dysfunction. Medication is the most common.

Dr. Khurana cautions that achieving rigid erections doesn’t necessarily mean you should ignore your routine health checkups.

“ED doesn’t always have to be present if you have heart disease,” she says. “It is recommended that men should have their regular annual physical as per the recommendations of their physician.”

Kiranpreet Khurana, MD, is a urologist and director of men's health/oncofertility at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Khurana or any doctor online.

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