Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get or maintain an erection long enough for a satisfactory sexual experience. It’s a common problem, and can be caused by a range of physical or psychological factors. The good news is that there are a range of effective treatments available, such as Viagra and newer solutions such as Eroxon Stimgel

However, many men avoid confronting the problem out of a sense of shame, inadequacy, or simply a lack of time to visit a GP surgery. While it’s understandable that men may not want to discuss such a private and personal matter with a stranger (or even their partner), it’s vital that any problems in the bedroom are not brushed aside.

This is not just because ED can affect men’s quality of life and cause difficulties in relationships, although these are valid reasons for seeking medical advice. Untreated ED can lead to depression, which can make the problem more difficult to resolve. 

Depression and related issues such as anxiety and low self-esteem are known to cause ED, or keep it going. Other common causes of ED are stress, tiredness, and excessive alcohol consumption, particularly in younger men under the age of 40. However, middle-aged men are more likely to have a physical cause for the problem.

According to the urologist and sexual health expert Dr Rena Malik, who is known for her podcasts and presence on social media to raise awareness about sensitive topics such as sexual health, about half of all men who have a heart attack have experienced erectile dysfunction prior to the incidence. 

Furthermore, she said 15 per cent of all men who are diagnosed with ED today will go on to have a heart attack within seven years. This is because the blood vessels that supply the penis are very narrow, so any problems with circulation tend to show up first with difficulty getting an erection.

Bristol Live reports on a recent interview Dr Malik gave with Steve Bartlett of Dragon’s Den fame for his Diary of a CEO Podcast. She said: “Say you’re having erectile dysfunction and you are diagnosed today with erectile dysfunction, seven years later about 15% of those men will have a heart attack.”

“And the reason for that is because if it’s a blood flow issue, the arteries to the penis are about 1 to 2 mm, the arteries to the heart are about 3 to 4 mm. And when you have about a 50% occlusion of a blood vessel because of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease – that organ will start to have problems.”

“And so you will start to see erectile dysfunction in men who have vascular problems before you start having chest pain or other signs of heart disease.”

A condition called atherosclerosis makes the risk of a heart attack or stroke more likely. This occurs when fatty deposits build up in the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to flow freely. 

It’s more common in people over 65 years of age, and it more frequently occurs in people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, who smoke, or have a family history of heart disease. ED can be one symptom, but not everybody will experience symptoms. 

However, some people may notice chest pains, pain in their arms or legs; a shortness of breath; a persistent feeling of tiredness; weakness and confusion. 

Health experts advise that the chances of developing atherosclerosis can be reduced by eating a balanced diet with a very limited amount of sugar and saturated fats; avoiding smoking; and taking regular exercise. It’s also advised to keep weight within the recommended guidelines and not to consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week. 

Dr Malik said that sexual function problems in women may also be a warning sign of a future heart attack. 

She commented: “It’s probably similar in women although we don’t have that data for women. Maybe if they all of a sudden are developing problems with arousal, maybe there that’s an indicator.”

“But again that’s more complex and we don’t have the data for that but certainly for men we have a clear indication that a problem with erections could precede really serious heart consequences and when you look at people who’ve had a heart attack about 50% of men will have had erectile dysfunction prior to that.”

Anyone who has any concerns about their heart or sexual health is advised to consult a doctor.