The path to erectile dysfunction often starts at the heart, which pumps blood through arteries to all areas of the body. To achieve an erection, these arteries widen and allow blood to flow into the network of vessels that travel through the stomach and lead into the penis, which causes swelling. Erectile dysfunction often occurs when these pathways are blocked by plaque, a condition known as atherosclerosis.
Cholesterol builds up on vessel walls, which causes them to narrow and slow down blood flow. If left untreated, flow can come to a screeching halt. This condition can also cause angina, heart attacks, strokes, and claudication (pain in the legs with walking). In some cases, erectile dysfunction could be a warning sign that a heart attack or stroke may happen down the road.
Though it may be unpleasant in the here and now, this symptom also presents a crucial opportunity to make lifestyle changes that can prevent more serious conditions in the future.
Atherosclerosis can develop from a variety of risk factors, including diabetes, smoking, alcohol abuse, high blood pressure, certain medications (such as thiazide diuretics), high levels of LDL cholesterol, obesity, low testosterone, advanced age, or a family history of the condition.
Cleveland Clinic interventional cardiologist Mehdi H. Shishehbor, DO, MPH credits French surgeon Rene Leriche with the discovery of the connection between vascular disease and erectile dysfunction nearly 100 years ago.
“He determined that men who were heavy smokers had blockages of plaque (fatty deposits) build up in their aorta, the main artery that delivers blood to a complex network of artery branches throughout the abdomen and pelvis, including the male genitals,” says Shishehbor.
Over 50 percent of American men between the ages of 40 and 70 will experience mild, moderate, or severe erectile dysfunction in their lifetime. This affects as many as 30 million men. On a related note, experts estimate that atherosclerosis and diabetes account for as much as 50 to 70 percent of cases.
Contrary to popular perception, ED doesn’t just affect older men. One in four men who sought help at an outpatient clinic for the condition were under the age of 40, nearly half of whom had severe symptoms. While these men in some ways appeared healthier than their older counterparts – less weight, more testosterone, fewer medications – they also smoked or used illegal drugs more regularly.
Perhaps of most concern is the fact that a majority of men, regardless of age, do not seek treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Treatments for ED vary from oral medications such as Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and Stendra, to self-injections, urethral suppositories, and penile implants. All of these carry possible side effects or they are very invasive procedures – and none of them address the potential root cause of clogged blood vessels.
A healthy lifestyle is the first step toward renewed sexual health. What’s good for the ticker is good for the nether regions – this means plenty of exercise, good sleep, and a sensible diet packed with leafy greens and multicolored vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy oils.
In addition, GAINSWave® offers a unique solution that can achieve impressive results. It is a simple in-office procedure that uses low-intensity acoustic sound waves to break up plaque and stimulate the release of growth factors, which can lead to the development of new blood vessels in the penis.
It awakens dormant stem cells and encourages blood flow, an essential component for normal erectile function. GAINSWave is a non-invasive, effective alternative for men who seek to address ED or simply improve their overall sexual performance.