Banks says that 1 in 5 men over 40 report moderate to severe erectile dysfunction.
"Men with severe erectile dysfunction were around 60 per cent more likely to go to hospital for coronary heart disease than men with no erection problems and they were twice as likely to die [in the follow up period]," she says.
'Canary in the Trousers'
Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Health Director, Rob Grenfell, says erection difficulties are mainly caused by blockages in the arteries that supply the penis.
He says since the arteries in the penis are smaller than the major arteries, including those that supply the heart, they can serve as an indicator of what's happening in those larger arteries.
"This is the 'canary in the trousers' for men across the country -- if you have erection issues, it's a warning that you may also have issues with your heart," says Grenfell.
"I urge any man suffering an erection difficulty to see their doctor to request a heart health check to measure their likelihood for having a heart attack in the next five years."
Banks says erectile dysfunction may be able to be managed by managing heart disease.
"If it's an early indicator of cardiovascular disease problems and you manage these, it's likely that you can manage to not go down this slippery slope too far," she says.
The study was funded by the National Heart Foundation, NSW Cardiovascular Research Network and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Two of the authors of the new study have received funding from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Servier.
-- By Anna Salleh
This article originally appeared on ABC Science Online.