Does ED Signal Impending Heart Problems?

Man exercising outside gripping chest with one hand

Erectile dysfunction is a ubiquitous part of aging and is closely related, in most patients, to the efficiency of the blood flow to the penis. Just as with other parts of the body, the penis has arteries that supply it with oxygenated blood. Differently from most other structures in the body, the penis retains some of that blood to create an erection. If this blood does not or cannot reach the penis, an erection may be soft or not last long enough for proper sexual contact.

While blood flow issues are the most common cause of erectile dysfunction, there are other considerations, including the fact that some patients have psychogenic causes of their ED. This means that they have essentially psyched themselves out of sex either due to prior poor performance or other psychological concerns.

The Connection Between ED and Heart Disease

No matter how healthy we are, as we age, plaque begins to develop along the walls of the arteries throughout the body. This plaque’s buildup is exacerbated by poor diet and exercise habits, including saturated fats and sugars that can enhance the deposits. Because the arteries feeding the penis are so narrow, these plaques have an outsized effect on this area of the body and cause them to occlude sooner than other, larger blood vessels. As such, if ED is tied to a vascular concern, erections will suffer before we see similar problems in different parts of the body.

This compromised function in the penis may be representative of arteries throughout the body. In other words, if you are experiencing ED, you probably have plaque buildup in your coronary and peripheral arteries as well. You might not experience symptoms quite as dramatically because those arteries are much larger, but they are likely still there.

Should I Get Checked out for Cardiovascular Issues if I Have ED?

Being that most patients begin to develop erectile dysfunction in middle age, it’s certainly not a bad thing to consult with your primary care physician or cardiologist to understand if you have any plaque buildup in your arteries. They can perform several noninvasive tests to determine your arteries’ health and stratify your risk for heart disease. Understanding if your peripheral and coronary arteries are starting to impede can be life-changing or even life-saving. Even if the occlusion is relatively minor, this can be a culprit of some impediments to the enjoyment of your life, including losing stamina and general fatigue, both often stemming from the lack of oxygen to the area fed by the occluded artery.

Is This an Emergency?

The short answer is that it is unlikely to be an emergency unless you have been experiencing significant symptoms associated with the occlusion of coronary arteries, like angina or chest pain. Regardless of erectile function, these concerns should be seen by a cardiologist immediately, and of course, if you believe you are having an emergency, be sure to call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Otherwise, it may be a great time to schedule an appointment with your cardiologist and get screened for heart disease if needed.

Remember that a urologist and men’s health specialist take into account the full range of concerns, whether caused by or result of conditions like erectile dysfunction. By speaking to a men’s health specialist like Dr. Engel, you are doing much more than treating erectile issues. You are putting your health on the radar so we can improve every part of your life.


Urologic Surgeons of Washington is a proud member of Privia Medical Group. The best doctors in our community have joined together to form Privia Medical Group (PMG), a multi-specialty, high-performance medical group that puts patients first. Our physicians are united by the mission of providing better, more coordinated care for their patients.

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