Men with diabetes who also have trouble getting an erection may have heart disease and not even realize it, Italian doctors said on Monday.
The study is among the first to document what some experts had predicted with the advent of new drugs to treat erectile dysfunction -- that they would help flush out men with heart disease but no serious symptoms apart from erectile problems.
“If our findings are confirmed, erectile dysfunction may become a potential marker to identify diabetic patients to screen for silent coronary artery disease,” said Dr. Carmine Gazzaruso of Maugeri Foundation Hospital in Pavia, Italy, who led the study.
Predictor of early death
Writing in the journal Circulation, Gazzaruso and colleagues said theirs was the first study to evaluate how common erectile dysfunction was among men with type 2 diabetes and silent heart disease.
They studied 133 men who had uncomplicated diabetes and silent coronary artery disease documented by coronary angiography, a test that creates images of the inside of the heart’s blood vessels.
They were compared with 127 diabetic men who were found to be free from heart disease.
“Silent CAD (coronary artery disease) is a strong predictor of coronary events and early death, especially in diabetic patients,” the researchers wrote. “So, it is of interest to know clinical conditions associated with silent CAD to identify subjects who should be screened for CAD.”
Doctors had hoped the hype surrounding new erectile dysfunction pills such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis would bring men into their offices so that more serious medical problems could be diagnosed.
Diabetes and heart disease both can affect bloodflow to the extremities so erectile dysfunction would be an expected side-effect.
In the Italian study 33.8 percent of diabetic men with silent CAD had erectile dysfunction, compared to 4.7 percent of diabetic men who did not have heart disease.