TUESDAY, Nov. 11, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Impotence can signal heart trouble in men.
The sexual problem, also known as erectile dysfunction, was associated with a more than threefold higher risk of heart attack, a long-running study of more than 2,000 men finds.
Lead researcher Dr. Steven J. Jacobsen, a professor of epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic, reported the findings Nov. 11 at the American Heart Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
Jacobsen and his colleagues reviewed data on sexual function and cardiovascular disease from a study of the men from Olmsted County, Minn., that covered the years 1979-98.
The precise relationship between impotence and heart problems is unclear. The reason: Questions about sexual function were added to the study only in 1996. So the number of heart attacks among men in the group since then was too small to allow definite conclusions, Jacobsen says.
"But there is an association," he says. "We can't say that it is cause-and-effect, but erectile dysfunction is a marker for future events of cardiovascular disease."
"Overall," Jacobsen adds, "men with a [heart attack] from 1979 to 1995 were 3.5 times more likely to have erectile dysfunction in 1996 than men who did not have" a heart attack.
The finding can be put to everyday medical use both by urologists, who treat erectile dysfunction, and cardiologists, he says.
"Urologists should ask about cardiovascular disease as well," Jacobsen says. "For physicians seeing men with cardiovascular disease, erectile dysfunction is an issue to be addressed."
Dr. Sidney Smith, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina and a spokesman for the American Heart Association, says the new research supplies evidence to support what many physicians have already been doing.
"For years we have known about a relationship between vascular disease and erectile dysfunction," Smith says. "This finding should place further emphasis on the need for physicians to think beyond erectile dysfunction and at least assess these patients for cardiovascular risk, asking whether there are symptoms of chest pain, for example."
Jacobsen reiterates that the physical mechanism that links erectile dysfunction with heart trouble remains unclear. But Viagra, the popular drug for treatment of impotence, was once considered as a potential therapy for angina, the chest pain caused by narrowed blood vessels, he says.
Viagra works against impotence because it enhances the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes smooth muscles in the penis and allows increased blood flow.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has information on erectile dysfunction and its treatment. For more on heart attacks and warning signs, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.