If This Happens to You in Your 40s, Your Risk of Heart Disease Skyrockets
You wouldn't guess these two things are so closely linked.
Every year, roughly over 650,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S., a rate that translates to one in every four deaths—and 20 percent of those victims are under the age of 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Men tend to develop heart disease an average of 10 years earlier than women, making them particularly vulnerable to the possibility of a premature heart attack, stroke, or other acute heart health episode. Now, experts are spreading the word about one particular red flag that many men display—often without connecting the dots back to their heart health. Read on to learn why having this symptom in your 40s makes your heart disease risk skyrocket in your 50s, and why treating its underlying causes could save your life.
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Men's sexual and heart health are linked, experts say.
Research shows that men's sexual health is directly linked to their heart health, thanks to common underlying factors. Having low testosterone, being stressed, and having more abdominal fat are all contributing factors in both sexual dysfunction and cardiovascular disease.
In fact, one expert from Johns Hopkins Medicine writes that certain forms of sexual dysfunction are considered "the canary in the coal mine" among medical professionals. "Sexual problems often foretell heart problems," they explain.
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If this happens in your 40s, your heart disease risk soars.
One form of sexual dysfunction in particular can predict future heart trouble: erectile dysfunction (ED). According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, having ED in your 40s has been linked with an 80 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years—even absent other risk factors.
Though many men dismiss this issue as a normal part of aging, experts say experiencing ongoing ED almost always indicates an underlying medical problem. "A key reason erectile dysfunction is considered a barometer for overall cardiovascular health is that the penis, like the heart, is a vascular organ," the site explains. "Because its arteries are much smaller than the heart's, arterial damage shows up there first—often years ahead of heart disease symptoms."
In fact, other experts say that ED is among the leading risk factors for heart disease. "Having ED is as much a risk factor for heart disease as a history of smoking or a family history of coronary artery disease," the Cleveland Clinic warns.
Some people have difficulty recognizing ED.
Men may overlook erectile dysfunction when their symptoms don't align with their understanding of the condition. "A lot of people think erectile dysfunction is the inability to get an erection at all, but an early sign of the condition is not being able to maintain an erection long enough to have satisfactory sexual intercourse," the Johns Hopkins expert says.
Being unable to achieve an erection less than 20 percent of the time is considered normal, and is not cause for medical concern. However, if it happens half the time or more, there is likely a physical or psychological problem, the Cleveland Clinic explains.
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Treatment can help address both problems.
The good news? Your doctor can help you treat the causes of erectile dysfunction. "Treating the underlying medical condition leads to lowering of atherosclerotic plaques hence improving blood flow. Therefore, even though men with erectile dysfunction may not have any obvious heart problem, they should be screened for heart disease—especially before starting treatment of erectile dysfunction," Sumir Sahgal, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Essen Health Care tells Best Life.
Your doctor will most likely begin any ED workup by addressing heart disease risk factors, including pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, or concerns about your weight. They may also wish to screen for kidney disease, prostate cancer, and neurological diseases—all of which can cause ED—before making their recommendations.
However, you can make many simple changes today, even before your next appointment. "Any lifestyle change that improves heart health improves penis health, too," says the Mayo Clinic. "Increase your physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, and drink alcohol only in moderation—or not at all," they suggest.
Speak with your doctor to discuss interventions and treatments that could be right for you.