'Canary in the Trousers' Could Warn Men

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Erectile dysfunction does not cause heart disease but can be a marker for it.
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Erectile problems can provide early warning of heart disease in apparently healthy men, a new study has found.

Epidemiologist Professor Emily Banks, from the Australian National University, and colleagues, report their findings today in PLOS Medicine.

"Even men with relatively minor erectile dysfunction could be on that road to getting cardiovascular disease," says Banks.

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While previous research has shown erectile problems are a marker for heart disease, this is the first study to show increasing severity of erectile problems is linked to increased heart disease risk.

The study drew on records from the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study, which is the largest ongoing study of healthy aging in the Southern Hemisphere.

The researchers looked at the hospital and health records of 95,000 men, who were followed over two to three years, and were asked questions about their health and lifestyle.

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In the study men were asked the question, "How often are you able to get and maintain an erection satisfactory for sexual activity?"

"Just that simple question really predicted their risk of disease," says Banks.

"Even in men who had no past history of heart disease, erectile dysfunction still predicted whether or not they went to hospital for heart disease and whether or not they died prematurely."

The researchers adjusted for the impact of known heart disease risk factors including blood pressure, high cholesterol, age, BMI, smoking and socioeconomic factors.

"We also found erectile dysfunction was linked to heart diseases beyond those that had originally been established," says Banks. "And those that had already had heart disease were more likely to go to hospital again for another cardiovascular problem, the more severe their erectile dysfunction was."