Could impotence warn of impending heart attack?

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Erection problems just aren’t disturbing enough. What they really need is the specter of death behind them. Ah, here we go.

Dr. Geoffrey Hackett from Good Hope Hospital in Great Britain has written a letter in the British Medical Journal contending that erectile dysfunction is often an early warning, by two to three years, of a heart attack.

It stands to reason. Though the condition can have many causes, Hackett points out that impotence can also be a sign of vascular disease in the smaller arteries of the body -- and that it suggests a 50% additional risk of coronary events. (a.k.a., ‘the big one’ -- and not in a good way.)

The good doctor is frustrated that many physicians simply treat erectile dysfunction as a lifestyle issue, not a symptom of physical health. To compound the problem, when treating heart disease, they prescribe drugs that worsen erectile dysfunction.


They’re related conditions, he says. Related, not separate. He’s quite insistent about the matter. He writes:

‘Continuing to ignore these issues on the basis that cardiologists feel uncomfortable mentioning the word erection to their patients is no longer acceptable and probably clinically negligent.’

Perhaps popping a blue, diamond-shaped pill and proceeding about one’s merry way isn’t the wisest course after all. In the short run, it could work, sure -- but a long run is better.

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic and the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse have to say about erectile dysfunction and what to do about it.

-- Tami Dennis