The fuss over new erectile dysfunction drugs, which has demystified a once unmentionable condition, may be doing some men a favor by calling attention to their hidden heart disease, researchers said on Monday.
Men who had a heart attack between 1979 and 1995 were 3.5 times more likely to say they had erectile dysfunction in 1996 than men who did not have a heart attack, a team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found.
“I think what it does is point to the fact that men with erectile dysfunction are more likely to have cardiovascular disease. It’s a marker,” said Steven Jacobsen, an epidemiologist who led the study.
“If it is an early warning sign, it might be better to start intervention earlier.” Men could be warned to quit smoking, change their diets and exercise more and, if needed, start taking drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Jacobsen and colleagues surveyed 2,000 men living around the Mayo Clinic. Aged between 40 and 79, they filled out questionnaires every two years.
The survey began years before the blockbuster impotence drug Viagra became available.
But experts say the enormous publicity surrounding the launch of Pfizer’s Viagra and its rivals, including Bayer’s Levitra, and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cialis, have greatly raised awareness of the problem.
The Impotence Association in Britain said publicity surrounding the launch of Viagra, known generically as sildenafil, quadrupled the normal 1,000 calls per month to the association’s anonymous helpline.
Impotence affects about 40 million U.S. men and the numbers increase with age.
Doctors know that the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease — high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking — are the same as those associated with impotence.
One study showed that 57 percent of men who had bypass surgery also experienced erectile dysfunction.
Viagra, which works by increasing blood flow, was initially tested as a drug to fight heart disease.
Jacobsen said he was surprised at the attention his study had received. “Twenty years ago in medical school they talked about this,” he said.