WASHINGTON - Erectile dysfunction might signal more than a need for the little purple pill, researchers said Tuesday in a study showing a link with heart disease and early death.
The Australian study - the world's largest investigating links between erection problems and heart disease - suggested erection problems could act as a warning sign of more serious health issues.
"The risks of future heart disease and premature death increased steadily with severity of erectile dysfunction," whether or not there was a history of cardiovascular disease, study director Emily Banks said.
Previous studies had found ties between severe erection problems and heart attacks and strokes, but this study was the first to also include mild and moderately severe erection problems.
"These results tell us that every man who is suffering from any degree of erectile dysfunction should be seeking medical assistance as early as possible and also insisting on a heart health check by their GP at the same time," said Rob Grenfell, Cardiovascular Health director at Australia's Heart Foundation.
The study, published this week in the "PLOS Medicine" journal, followed 95,000 men aged 45 and older for two to three years.
The men responded to a survey on their health and lifestyle, and the authors also studied any records of hospital stays or deaths in the group.
Over the study period, there were 7,855 hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease and 2,304 deaths.
Banks said that the study indicated that erection problems seemed to a symptom of heart problems.
"Rather than causing heart disease, erectile dysfunction is more likely to be a symptom or signal of underlying 'silent' heart disease and could in future become a useful marker to help doctors predict the risk of a cardiovascular problem.
"This is a sensitive topic but men shouldn't suffer in silence; there are many effective treatments, both for erectile dysfunction and for cardiovascular disease," she emphasised.
Erection problems are very common. About one in five men over 40 report moderate or severe erectile dysfunction.