Why Viagra was a boon for men’s health

In 1994, Viagra was approved and a flood of men with erectile dysfunction saw their doctors for “the little blue pill.” Men are notoriously negligent in using the healthcare system. They do not routinely see physicians as women do. Having erectile dysfunction as an impetus, men were evaluated as never before.

The ability to achieve an erection is an indicator of a man’s general health. Before 1990, doctors thought that erectile dysfunction was either due to age or psychological problems. However, men over 40 (in particular) often have simmering medical conditions like diabetes, atherosclerotic vascular disease, hypertension, alcoholism, or smoking as causes of ED. Also, significant psychiatric diseases like depression can be responsible, along with a myriad of hormonal, neurological conditions, and other medical issues.

Essentially, Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be caused by any condition that impairs blood flow to the penis, interferes with the nerves that supply messages and sensation to the penis, or that interrupts the function of the hormones needed to moderate the processes of desire and sexual function.

Viagra brought men into doctor’s offices and the result was that the underlying conditions were unmasked while treatment for the causes of ED was initiated.

However, that is changing. Millions of American men have ED and have yet to seek care. Insurers are increasingly considering erectile dysfunction a “lifestyle” issue not worth covering and with pills costing more than $50 each, men are no longer seeking the care they need with their physician. Many untreated men suffer the loss of intimacy, or they buy the medication illegally online–medication that is counterfeit up to 80% of the time and contains contaminants like floor wax or worse. Even if they get the right medicine they receive no education whatsoever.

So, never losing an opportunity to educate, what follows is an explanation of why the penis is the barometer for health and the most common diseases that should be considered.

There are 8 conditions commonly associated with both erectile dysfunction (and also heart disease):
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age (ED under age 70, and especially under age 50)
  • Obesity
  • Depression
Therefore, ED could be an early indication of high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, depression, sleep disorders, or hormonal imbalances.

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA.2005;294(23):2996-3002) found that erectile dysfunction was a significant predictor of heart disease. In a landmark study, 4247 men over the age of 55, who did not have erectile dysfunction (ED), were followed for five years checking them every three months for the development of erectile dysfunction (ED) and heart disease. 2420 men (57%) reported developing erectile dysfunction within 5 years. Over the follow-up period of five years, 11% of the men who developed erectile dysfunction (ED) experienced a cardiac event. It was a much greater percentage than men in the study who did not develop ED.

About 40% of people in the US die from cardiovascular disease, and nearly 50% of the deaths due to coronary heart disease happen in men who never had a warning like chest pain or shortness of breath. The development of erectile dysfunction is a warning for some men that heart disease is on the horizon.

The authors in the above study warned, “It is estimated that more than 600,000 men aged 40 to 69 years in the United States develop erectile dysfunction annually. Our data suggest that the older men in this group have about a 2-fold greater risk of cardiovascular disease than men without erectile dysfunction. With 70% to 89% of sudden cardiac deaths occurring in men and with many men not having regular physical examinations, this analysis suggests that the initial presentation of a man with erectile dysfunction should prompt the evaluating physician to screen for standard cardiovascular risk factors and, as appropriate, initiate cardioprotective interventions.”

Now, you know why we strongly recommend blood tests, education, and developing a sound working relationship with all your healthcare providers.

Getting an erection is a complex biological process. For starters, a man’s hormones must be released on demand (almost instantly), his arteries need to carry 6 times the normal amount of blood to the penis with perfect efficiency, his nervous system’s commands must be transmitted without a hitch, and his mind must be working in perfect harmony with his body. If a man has difficulty getting the kind of erection he and his partner expect, it may be because a problem is brewing and Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is the first sign.

Paying more attention to the strength of your erection could save your life. Because the blood vessels of the penis are small, serious underlying conditions often manifest themselves first with ED. According to “The Artery Size Hypothesis” those small vessels are more likely to reveal changes long before slightly larger arteries in the heart are affected. That’s why changes in the penis are a warning sign that heart disease may be on the horizon. Men are fortunate that these tiny vessels are responsible for something as visible as an engorged penis. If a failing erection is like the check engine light going off in a car, then the body has chosen the perfect place to put that sign.

Lastly, there are many reasons a man might develop ED, and many are easily reversible. Medications, lack of sleep, poor exercise habits, smoking, excess alcohol, and even prolonged bike riding all can contribute to ED (erectile dysfunction), to name just a few. So, if you or your partner notice a change, it is great that medication can improve the symptom, but it is vital that everyone consider all the possible reasons it occurred in the first place.