Let’s talk about sex, baby. It’s one thing to be told that you have atrial fibrillation. It’s another thing to learn that your arrhythmia might be wreaking havoc on your sex life. Today we delve into the topic of AFib and erectile dysfunction, exploring the relationship between both. If you have AFib or experience problems with impotence, you won’t want to miss this.
Sex and the heart
Along with a delicious meal, a beautiful vacation, or a deeply restorative night of sleep, sex ranks high on the list of pleasures in life. Not only does sex satisfy our emotional heart, but it’s incredibly beneficial for our physical heart as well. Sex benefits the heart in the following ways:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces stress through higher levels of the hormone oxytocin
- Helps balance estrogen and testosterone levels
- Improves sleep
- Helps foster loving connections with a partner
Sex may even have protective benefits for the heart. One study found that men who reported having sexual intercourse less than once a month had a higher risk of cardiac disease than men who had sex twice a week or more. While additional research is needed, science suggests that more activity in the bedroom could ward off heart problems.
The heart of the matter: cardiac disease and sex
Cardiovascular disease impacts every area of life, including sexual activity. Studies have shown that sexual problems are common after a cardiac event, such as a heart attack. For example, sexual difficulties double for individuals after heart surgery.
And it’s not only major cardiac events that precipitate sexual difficulties. Even less concerning heart problems, such as hypertension or arrhythmias, can cause significant issues with sexual performance. In fact, one study found sexual dysfunction in nearly 87 percent of people with atrial fibrillation.
Sexual problems associated with cardiac disease include erectile dysfunction, difficulty reaching orgasm, lower sexual desire, decreased satisfaction with sex, increased pain, and higher anxiety levels.
The reasons why cardiac disease causes sexual challenges are numerous. First, cardiovascular disease changes the way that blood circulates through the body. Decreased blood flow to the genital area often causes erectile dysfunction in men or arousal difficulties in both sexes. Additionally, low-grade inflammation, oxidative stress, and endothelial dysfunction contribute to sexual problems.
Many individuals with heart disease suffer from performance anxiety. Some worry that they will have a cardiac event during sex. Others are concerned that they will not have the physical stamina to enjoy the sexual experience. Since sex requires concentration on feelings and emotions, anxiety can distract from the experience and create additional problems with arousal and performance.
Finally, individuals with heart disease are often prescribed medications. Unfortunately, many cardiac drugs have unwanted sexual side effects.
What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED), also referred to as impotence, is the inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for satisfactory sex. It’s estimated that over one-third of men experience erectile dysfunction, although it’s challenging to get an accurate count as the sensitive issue is severely under-reported. An earlier study put the estimates much closer to 50 percent.
What we do know is that the incidence of ED increases with age. The risk factors for erectile dysfunction overlap with many cardiovascular diseases, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Depression or anxiety
- Sleep disorders
- Alcohol or tobacco use
Erectile dysfunction: Is it an early warning?
Men who experience erectile dysfunction may think it’s simply a result of the natural aging process. Others believe that it’s purely a psychological issue. However, it’s often the first sign of an impending cardiac problem for many men and could be a sign of AFib.
Coronary artery disease can be caused by endothelial dysfunction, a problem with the inner layer of the blood vessels. Instead of a blockage due to plaque, constriction of the blood vessels causes decreased blood flow to the heart. Endothelial dysfunction often impacts blood flow to the penis first. Therefore, erectile dysfunction is sometimes a clue that something more significant could be awry.
Multiple studies have shown that those with erectile dysfunction have a higher risk of heart disease. For example, a 2018 study of over 2,000 men found that those with erectile dysfunction experienced more than double the number of heart attacks and strokes.
Erectile dysfunction may also be a clue for an impending arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation. In a 2019 study, researchers looked at over 1,700 men without a history of AFib. They found that those with erectile dysfunction were 66 percent more likely to be diagnosed with AFib than those with normal sexual functioning.
Does AFib cause erectile dysfunction?
As with all things health, every body system is related to one another. Problems in one area tend to produce issues in another. As arrhythmias such as AFib cause poor blood flow and erections require strong blood flow, it would make sense that AFib contributes to erectile dysfunction.
AFib and erectile dysfunction often come hand-in-hand. A recent study concluded that approximately 57 percent of individuals with AFib also have erectile dysfunction. However, the researchers found a low incidence of new erectile dysfunction in AFib patients, suggesting that perhaps the ED came first. AFib
and erectile dysfunction share so many of the same risk factors that it’s difficult to determine cause and effect.
If AFib isn’t causing erectile dysfunction directly, certain prescribed medications might be contributing. For example, patients are often put on drugs to lower heart rate and blood pressure, such as beta-blockers. Unfortunately, these medications slow blood flow and can exacerbate sexual problems. Sadly, some men prefer to take a pill rather than address the root cause of the problem.
How do I fix erectile dysfunction and prevent AFib?
Thankfully many of the things that you can do to prevent or fix AFib also work to improve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. By improving blood flow throughout the body and healing endothelial dysfunction and oxidative stress, the chances of AFib and erectile dysfunction decrease dramatically.
Steps that you can take to address both AFib and erectile dysfunction include:
- Eat an organic 100 Year Heart Diet
- Exercise daily
- Eliminate alcohol and nicotine
- Check your caffeine consumption
- Reduce stress
- Eliminate your exposure to toxins
- Spend time in the sun
You might think that your primary care doctor or urologist are the best people to call if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction. However, your cardiologist might be the one with the answers. Work with our practitioners to get your heart checked and address your AFib symptoms. This could prevent or resolve sexual problems that you might be experiencing and help you achieve your 100 Year Heart. Life is short, and enjoying a fulfilling sex life should be part of your plan until the very end.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD