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How High Blood Pressure Affects Erectile Dysfunction
Medically reviewed by
While you often hear the term “blood pressure”, many are unsure of what this actually means. Blood pressure seems complex; however, it simply refers to the pressure that develops when your blood moves along and pushes against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are a crucial component within the circulatory system and are tubelike in shape. They are responsible for transporting blood back and forth throughout the entire body. While your blood moves from one area of the body to the next, it is not uncommon for the level of your blood pressure to change. Unfortunately, if this pressure level remains too high for an extended period, it can lead to severe health consequences. This condition is known as hypertension.
Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure level that continually lands above average. A normal, healthy blood pressure level is 120/80 mmHg. Those with stage 1 hypertension experience levels of 130-139 over 80-89 mmHg. Stage 2 sufferers have more extreme numbers of anything over 140/90 mmHg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is an epidemic in America with nearly half of all adults suffering from the condition. It is believed that of the nearly 116 million individuals with hypertension only 1 in 4 of them have their blood pressure levels well controlled with medication or other tactics. Uncontrolled cases of hypertension can lead to immense problems, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. It can also lead to complications like erectile dysfunction.
What is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is a condition that affects the male genitalia. There are a plethora of different causes, but in all scenarios, they struggle to get or maintain an erection long enough for intercourse to take place. This can be mentally and emotionally frustrating and can strain a romantic relationship due to the lack of intimacy. It can also cause difficulties for couples who are trying to conceive. Some of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction include underlying health issues like:
Low Testosterone Levels
Surgery or Other Physical Injury
High Blood Pressure
In addition to these physical health concerns, erectile dysfunction can have other causes that are linked to emotional stress or taking certain medications like anti-depressants, which often come with sexual side effects. In most cases, these scenarios only cause temporary difficulties with getting or maintaining an erection or premature or delayed ejaculation. If the condition causes you distress, counseling or speaking to your doctor about the side effects of your medication can be helpful. In these cases, a doctor may recommend changing the dosage of a medication like an anti-depressant or may consider switching your medication to one that is not associated with sexual side effects.
How is High Blood Pressure Linked to Erectile Dysfunction?
It is estimated that around 30% of men with high blood pressure also experience erectile dysfunction. High blood pressure can be both, directly and indirectly, responsible for ED. For example, when your blood pressure is too high, it causes your blood vessels to narrow significantly. This inhibits the flow of blood throughout the organs and tissues in your body. It causes all areas of your body to slow down and it becomes a strain on your body. Because all other areas of the body are slowing down, it isn’t surprising that the same effect would be seen in the genitalia. Over time, the blood vessels in the penis and surrounding areas become extremely narrow which makes it difficult for the blood to flow freely through these regions. Blood flow is essential for achieving and maintaining an erection, so it is no surprise that a slower, narrower path for the blood to flow results in erectile dysfunction.
In addition to this, high blood pressure can cause your body to produce less of the hormone known as testosterone. Testosterone is a sex hormone that directly affects a male’s reproductive tissues as well as the growth of body hair, muscle, and sex drive. When these levels are low, it can interfere with the sex drive. This means that even if the blood vessels have not narrowed significantly, a man with low testosterone levels will have a significantly lower sex drive than a male with healthy levels. This prevents them from desiring sex on a regular basis and can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
Another common link between erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure is the medications used to regulate blood pressure. Medications like thiazide diuretics, loop diuretics, and beta-blockers commonly list sexual difficulties as a side effect. If this is the case, your doctor will likely switch you to a medication that does not have the potential for this side effect. Other medications like ACE inhibitors, alpha-blockers, and calcium channel blockers are effective in decreasing blood pressure but do not come with any sexual consequences. In any case, do not discontinue medications for high blood pressure without first discussing it with a doctor. While erectile dysfunction can be frustrating, the risks of uncontrolled high blood pressure are immense.
Effects of Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction can have extreme psychological effects when experienced for an extended period. Typically, sufferers begin to feel inadequate, self-conscious, or otherwise embarrassed due to their inability to perform sexually with a partner. It can also lead to immense frustration for single men who are unable to achieve an orgasm during masturbation. Over time, this can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and relationship problems. Both partners may be unhappy with the quality of their sex lives and this can be particularly bothersome when the couple is trying to conceive.
Risks Associated with Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure
Those who have high blood pressure should understand the potential for severe consequences if it is not properly managed through a series of lifestyle changes and medications. Although nearly half of the population suffers from hypertension or high blood pressure, some of these cases are more severe and likely to cause damage than others. Those with slightly elevated levels may be able to reverse and prevent any further damage by making small changes to their diets or exercise regimes. Those with stage 2 hypertension; however, are at immense risk of suffering a stroke, heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, or failure or loss of vision. This is because the body has to work overtime to supply vital organs like the heart with adequate blood flow when blood pressure levels are elevated. Without being able to flow freely, the blood containing oxygen is restricted within narrow vessels which makes it tough for the heart to get the blood and oxygen needed to function properly. Over time, this results in damage that makes a person more susceptible to these diseases or organ malfunctions. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that high blood pressure is among the leading causes of premature death worldwide.
Although erectile dysfunction is disruptive to one's lifestyle, it does not carry the same level of health consequences as uncontrolled high blood pressure. Because of that, it is important to prioritize the treatment of high blood pressure over the treatment of erectile dysfunction. This means continuing medications and recommendations that are prescribed or recommended by a doctor, even if they lead to complications like erectile dysfunction. Keep in mind that in many cases, if you express frustrations with certain side effects like erectile dysfunction, your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative medication or treatment plan. The key to success here is to be open and honest with your care provider to ensure the best possible outcome with the treatment of your high blood pressure and your erectile dysfunction.
How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction Due to High Blood Pressure
While erectile dysfunction caused by mental woes or periods of stress is temporary, those who suffer erectile dysfunction as a result of a physical, ongoing ailment have a tougher time. This is because treating the underlying condition, like high blood pressure, is an ongoing process. In order to alleviate the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure must be controlled. This can be done by adopting certain lifestyle changes like exercising more frequently, reducing stress, or adopting a healthier diet. In many cases, doctors also prescribe medication to lower blood pressure.
Unfortunately, many of these medications can also cause problems with erectile dysfunction. They are crucial for those with high blood pressure and the benefits that they provide undoubtedly outweigh the side effects that are experienced. Despite this, patients who take blood pressure medication or struggle with high blood pressure, do not have to live with an unsatisfactory sex life. Instead, a doctor may recommend that the medication used for blood pressure treatment is changed. Because there are differences in side effects from one medication to another, you may have a better experience with a different medication.
If the damage to the arteries in the penile region is significant, your doctor may recommend a medication intended for erectile dysfunction. These medications aid in achieving and maintaining an erection so that a couple’s sex life and ability to conceive are restored. In extreme scenarios, it may be necessary for the patient to undergo surgery in order to repair the damage caused by high blood pressure. There are many different types of surgeries, like penile revascularization, that can be used for this purpose. These surgeries aim to repair the arteries and tissue or remove scar tissue in the penile region to restore normal functionality.
How Do I Know if My High Blood Pressure is Responsible for My ED?
There are a plethora of reasons that men struggle with erectile dysfunction. If you are otherwise healthy and have noticed a sudden emergence of ED, it is wise to speak with a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure. If you are aware of your hypertension and are currently taking medication, be sure to mention this to your doctor as well. In the event that you do not receive treatment for your high blood pressure and have started to experience erectile dysfunction, you may need medication to prevent further damage from occurring. Likewise, you may have other conditions or mental health concerns that are responsible. Because it can be tough to tell, your best bet is to schedule an examination with your doctor who can guide you through the process of identifying a cause and formulating a treatment plan that works for your specific scenario.
Nu Image Medical has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.