Q. Is erectile dysfunction just a normal, though unpleasant, part of getting older?
A. from John Ludlow, MD
Western Michigan Urological Associates
Holland Hospital Medical Groups
This is a question urologists are frequently asked. What we do know is that the incidence of erectile dysfunction (ED), or the inability to get or maintain an erection, does increase with age, but the central issue is the significance of ED. We used to think ED was just a lifestyle issue and held little, if any, importance in a patient’s life or health. We now understand that it’s really just the opposite: ED is just as important in a patient’s overall health as is his diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol.
Over the past five years, literally hundreds of scientific papers have been written documenting the importance of ED as an early sign of other potentially life-threatening medical problems. We know that in most cases ED is a vascular disease, as is coronary artery disease. What this means is that a patient who complains of ED is at an increased risk for having coronary artery disease, and thus is at increased risk for a myocardial infarction – a heart attack. This association is even more profound in patients who have diabetes and ED; their risk of heart attack is five times that of the general population.
Asking men, regardless of their age, about their erectile function is part of a typical health physical at the doctor’s office. Further assessment, if needed, is easy and rarely requires invasive testing. Likewise, the treatment of ED – which includes a wide range of options from lifestyle or medication changes to surgical repair – is almost always successful.
The most important step anyone experiencing ED can take is to consult his doctor. Determining the cause, and successfully treating it, may help prevent a life-threatening condition, and can certainly lead to a better quality of life.