A recent study has found former NFL players to be at risk for erectile dysfunction if they sustained a concussion during sports.
Harvard researchers looked at 3,400 former professional football players and found in those who sustained some sort of head trauma, 18% had low testosterone (Low T), 23% reported erectile dysfunction (ED) and 10% had both low T and ED.
The cause of the low testosterone is not clear, but researchers believe it could be due to damage to the pituitary gland. If the gland is damaged, signals to the testes where testosterone is produced could be disrupted.
One possible explanation, the research team said, could be injury to the brain’s pituitary gland that sparks a cascade of hormonal changes culminating in diminished testosterone and ED. This biological mechanism has emerged as a plausible explanation in earlier studies that echo the current findings, such as reports of higher ED prevalence and neurohormonal dysfunction among people with head trauma and traumatic brain injury, including military veterans and civilians with head injuries.
The more head injuries, the higher the risk of sexual side effects noted. Medical providers need to be aware that among the issues that could arise down the line in those who sustain trauma to the head (i.e. headaches, mood swings, insomnia, depression), sexual dysfunction may need to be screened as well.
ED Linked to Heart Disease
For years, men have voiced frustration when their medical providers insisted on a cardiac workup prior to initiating an ED prescription. Some thought it was because they’d have a heart attack during sex. But it’s not. Erectile dysfunction is a vascular issue, and if the vessels of the penis are compromised, how does one know his heart vessels aren’t as well?
Now in a recent study from John Hopkins School of Medicine found an increase risk of stroke, heart attack and cardiac arrests in those men who suffered from erectile dysfunction. Study author, Michael Blaha, professor of Medicine, states, “Our findings suggest that clinicians should perform further targeted screening in men with erectile dysfunction, regardless of other cardiac risk factors and should consider managing any other risk factors — such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — that much more aggressively.”
Last December, a study published in the Journal of Vascular Medicine, found the same risk factors leading to erectile dysfunction are also culprits in heart disease.
Risk factors shared by both erectile dysfunction and heart disease include:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Men over age 45
- Physical inactivity
- Family history of heart disease
Last year, researchers from Mount Sinai Medical Center, Florida International University and Baptist Health South Florida reviewed multiple studies and found a link between erectile dysfunction and compromised blood vessels whose endothelium (lining) demonstrated impaired vessel relaxation. This is necessary for both erections as well as blood flow to the heart and rest of the body.
Moreover carotid media-intima thickness, a marker of atherosclerosis, appeared to be correlated to erectile dysfunction as well.
Both studies remind us that if one bodily function is impaired, other organs may be quietly suffering the same impairment.
I like to credit the pharmaceutical companies that created erectile dysfunction drugs with saving millions of men’s lives as:
- Men who would refuse to come into any doctor’s office now had an incentive to, resulting in a long-overdue check-up
- Those who saw providers who required an EKG or diabetic screening, and unknowingly suffered from a serious cardiac risk factor, could now be diagnosed.
- ED drugs allowed those men who couldn’t enjoy sex to now get some much-needed physical activity
Young men aren’t immune to cardiovascular disease and need to be screened as well if they have issues starting or maintaining erections.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.