We’ve touched on the many uses of Viagra, both medicinal and recreational. But for those simply popping a pill and heading to bed, you may be overlooking a much bigger problem. Two new studies of men with type 2 diabetes found that erectile dysfunction (ED) was a major warning signal for heart disease, heart attacks, and even death. The subjects’ floundering erections began up to three years before their coronary symptoms appeared, and often served as a good indicator of their overall cardiovascular health.
The first, and larger study consisted of 2,306 men with type 2 diabetes, 25 percent of whom had ED. The research team followed their health for four years, and found that the men with ED had a much greater chance of having a heart attack, chest pains, or bypass surgery, or, worst of all, dying from heart disease.
Regression analysis showed that out of every 1,000 diabetic men with ED, 19.7 could be expected to experience a “coronary heart disease event” each year, compared to 9.5 of those without ED. When the team controlled for factors like age, blood pressure, medications, and the duration of the diabetes, ED signaled a 58 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.
What links ED and heart disease, say the researchers, is their source. High blood sugar levels can lead to endothelial dysfunction, or damage to the smoothness and reactivity of blood vessels, which in turn can cause clots and atherosclerosis. The same damage that eventually brings on heart attacks often starts out hindering blood flow to the penis.
Cholesterol-lowering medications proved very effective in one of the studies, cutting the risk of heart problems by about a third—and raising the question of whether Viagra and the rest of its pharmaceutical family could be just as useful for rescuing hearts as they are erections.