Erectile Problems Can Be a Sign of Heart Disease

Happy Men’s Health Month. Wait. I know what you’re thinking. You’re expecting to be nagged about going to the doctor more, aren’t you? Urged to lay off your steak and mashed potatoes, right? Well, maybe this is life saving advice!

According to “Health, United States, 2009,” men die from heart disease and chronic liver disease at nearly twice the rate of women.

The causes for this anomaly are many: men are more likely to be overweight, have high blood pressure or diabetes, all of which increase the risks. They are more likely to smoke, drink more booze than they should and have a poorer diet. They also tend to work longer hours, which doubles the chance of heart attack.

But these are not the only signs. Erectile problems are one of the strongest early-warning alerts of future heart disease. Experts believe that’s because the arteries that supply the penis with blood at the most critical moment clog up sooner than the ones in the heart; two or three years before any other symptoms occur and up to five years before critical problems begin to emerge.

Have I got your attention now? Now that we know that erection problems are the best early-warning we have of future heart disease, we can’t afford to be embarrassed by this discussion.

Simple lifestyle changes can make a significant difference. None of this is rocket science, of course. Cut back on the alcohol, be more active, improve your diet – heard it all before? It might help to know that, in another study, a combination of exercise, a diet rich in things like whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, and cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins was enough to reduce erectile problems.

According to the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, here are some male behavior norms that men and community leaders need to consider:

Men frequently ignore symptoms and are reluctant to seek care until there is a crisis.

“Health, United States, 2009,” reports that men from ages 18-44 years were 70 percent less likely to visit a physician in 2007. The report also indicates that men were 80 percent less likely to have a usual source of health care, as compared to women.

Access to care is a significant factor for minority men.

According to the 2008 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports, Hispanic and black men were less likely than white men to see a physician. This report shows that both black and Hispanic men were about 10 percent less likely to have a usual primary care provider, as compared to the white population.

In 2005, all men were 30 percent more likely to be uninsured for the previous year, as compared to women. Within that group, African American men were 75 percent more likely to be uninsured than white men, and Hispanic men were almost three times more likely to be without health insurance.

Recommended Health Screenings for Men

  • Blood Cholesterol Screenings: Have your cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 35.
  • Blood Pressure: Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years.
  • Colorectal Cancer Tests: Regular screening for colorectal cancer should begin at age 50, unless earlier screenings are recommended based on family history, medical history and lifestyle.
  • Diabetes Tests: Have a test to screen for diabetes if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Depression: If you’ve felt “down,” sad, or hopeless, and have felt little interest or pleasure in doing things for two weeks straight, talk to your doctor about whether he or she can screen you for depression.
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Prostate Cancer Screening: Talk to your doctor about the possible benefits and harms of prostate cancer screening if you are considering having a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, in which blood is drawn, or digital rectal examination (DRE).

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of this information. Just remember: doing something is better than nothing. So making a small change in your lifestyle — whether it means walking every day, cutting out sugary soda drinks, quitting smoking, or making an appointment to have a physical — is a step toward a healthier you.

1. National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 47, no. 19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, June 30, 1999.

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