Know when it's time to see the doctor
Not all diabetic men experiencing erectile dysfunction, or ED, are at risk for cardiovascular disease, but it is recommended that patients take a proactive approach by visiting a cardiologist to explore risk factors.
“ED is often associated with vascular dysfunction, or impaired blood flow,” says Laurence A. Levine, MD, a urologist at Rush.
"If a patient is experiencing ED, it can be speculated that the impaired blood flow could be problematic in other areas of the body, especially the heart. Men with diabetes are three to four times more likely to have vascular disease leading to strokes and heart attacks than men who are not diabetic."
The link between erectile dysfunction and the heart
ED is a common complication of diabetes, pointing to cardiovascular issues. "What most patients don't realize is that coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among diabetics — and erectile dysfunction has been shown to be an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease particularly in the male diabetic," Levine says.
“The key, of course, is to prevent diabetes in the first place. That comes down to lifestyle choices for adults and children — eating right and getting plenty of exercise.”
ED and diabetes are not unique to older adults; younger men are also affected. "Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more teenagers being diagnosed with type 2, or adult onset, diabetes," says Levine. "In males, that can lead to complications like ED when they are only in their 30s."
What you can do
Recognizing ED as a marker for vascular health can be the first step in making the necessary changes to maintain vascular health.
“The amount of medical data concerning ED's relationship to diabetes and coronary heart disease makes it critical for both physicians and patients to be educated about the causes of ED,” says Shahid Ekbal, MD, a urologist at Rush.
“Not only should diabetic patients with ED be screened for coronary heart disease, they should be treated by a multidisciplinary medical team that can address the many health and lifestyle issues that diabetes presents," he adds. "The clinical team should include specialists in urology, cardiology, endocrinology, nutrition and behavior.”