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Smoking's a Drag on Sex

Impotency strikes male smokers with high blood pressure

MONDAY, May 21 , 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Despite movie images of lovers lighting cigarettes during romantic encounters, new research now offers more evidence that many male smokers can't express their burning desires.

Men who smoke and have high blood pressure are 26 times more likely to be impotent than non-smokers, according to a North Carolina researcher. Quitting tobacco helps, but not entirely -- former smokers were still 11 times more likely to have trouble maintaining an erection if they also had hypertension.

"Everybody knows that smoking is a contributory factor to impotence, but it's not really known how much. It's nice to have a number when you're a physician seeing a patient," says the researcher, Dr. John Spangler of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Spangler's findings were released May 19 at a conference of the American Society of Hypertension in San Francisco.

Spangler examined 59 patients who had hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure. Essentially, high blood pressure means that the heart is working too hard to push blood through the body's circulatory system, possibly because arteries are clogged.

In his study of men between the ages of 48 and 78, about half of the smokers were impotent. Non-smokers hardly reported the condition at all, he says.

For the sake of the study, men with impotence were defined as those who suffered difficulty with erections over the past month. The Wake Forest researchers adjusted their results so they wouldn't be affected by other risk factors that could affect impotence, like stress, obesity and age, Spangler says.

Smoking can cause clogging of the arteries in the pelvis area, which reduces the flow of blood to the genitals, Spangler explains. Since erections are caused by increased blood flow to the penis, that can spell trouble.

Spangler adds that the chemicals in tobacco may also affect the body's regulation of the male hormone testosterone.

The new research will give more ammunition to doctors when they try to convince their patients to stop smoking, says Dr. Michael A. Werner, a White Plains, N.Y., urologist.

Many patients have no idea that tobacco will hurt their love lives, he says. But when they find out, they pay attention.

"When patients come to me for other issues, I tell them that if they keep smoking the way they are, they'll become impotent at a earlier age," he says. "They don't care if they're going to get heart attacks or strokes, but when you tell them they'll get impotent, they sit up and pay attention."

While impotency is largely a problem for older men, younger men who smoke can experience weaker erections because of constricted blood vessels, Werner adds.

But many men don't realize that. "The men look at me, shocked, even though it's intuitive that anything that affects their blood vessels would affect their erection," he says.

What To Do

If you're a male smoker, consider reducing your intake of cigarettes or quitting entirely. Otherwise, don't be shocked if you get a surprise in the bedroom.

If you're interested in seeing what clinical trials there are on sexual dysfunction, take a look at Veritas Medicine.

Many people don't understand what high blood pressure is. The American Heart Association has a handy fact sheet with information.

Learn about treatments for impotence at the Impotence World Association.

You also might want to read previous HealthDay articles on impotence and others on smoking and hypertension.

SOURCES: Interviews with John Spangler, M.D., M.P.H., Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Michael A. Werner, M.D., White Plains, N.Y.; May 19, 2001 presentation, American Society of Hypertension, San Francisco, Calif.
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