Fewer things are more embarrassing and heart-wrenching for men than erectile dysfunction (ED). A lot of guys don’t want to discuss it, but the results of a 4-year study suggest that men should do their best to get past their negative emotions and mention it to their doctor because the problem puts them at greater risk for heart disease.
There are many different causes of ED, including alcohol abuse, diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, and spinal cord damage. However, in many cases, ED is caused by vascular problems and these ailments increase the risk of potentially deadly heart problems.
Specifically, the study concluded that men who have vascular-related ED are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac arrest. That didn’t change, even after researchers accounted for other heart risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of smoking.
Study author Dr. Michael Blaha said:
“The magnitude of the effect was surprising to me.”
The findings suggest that doctors should tackle other heart risks more aggressively, according to Blaha.
For the study, Blaha and his colleagues tracked the heart health of about 1,900 men, ages 60 to 78, with or without vascular-related ED.
Unlike emotional problems, certain diseases, or spinal cord damage, vascular-related ED results from blocked arteries and insufficient blood flow.
Until recently, scientists believed that obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes – all risk factors for heart disease – were the cause of vascular-related ED. As it turns out, ED itself is a risk factor.
“ED may be a sign of subclinical cardiovascular dysfunction. In addition, this signal for increased risk is independent of depression and medication usage. “
That eliminates the theory that depression or its treatment might be the link between ED and heart disease, according to Blaha.
Overall, just over 6% of men with ED in the study experienced a serious heart problem, compared with just under 3% of men without the disorder.
Blaha said that men with ED should see a doctor or a preventative cardiologist.
“In some cases, these men need screening for early cardiovascular disease. Many men at risk for cardiovascular disease seek medical care not for management of risk factors, but for their ED. Our study is an alert that such patients need a thorough cardiovascular evaluation in addition to their treatment for ED.”
In the U.K., ED is already part of an algorithm for calculating heart disease risk. Blaha believes it’s time the U.S. follows Britain’s lead. 
“We are at that point where if it is identified, then it should be considered another risk factor for heart disease.”
Doing so could potentially lead to lower rates of heart disease and heart-related deaths, he noted.
And, men, if you have ED, you should know you’re not alone. As many as 25% of all men under the age of 40 are affected by ED. Moreover, about 20% of men under the age of 20 have the same problem. Yes, it occurs more in older men, but ED clearly impacts guys of all ages.  
You won’t shock your doctor. Go get checked out. Your heart depends on it.
 CBS News