Harvard Heart Letter

Two-way street between erection problems and heart disease

Paying attention to heart health can be good for a man's sex life.

Trouble getting or keeping an erection can be an early warning sign of heart disease, much as heart disease can signal a man's current or future sexual problems. When either one appears, the other is likely to be lurking nearby.

Artery diseases foil erections

A thought or a touch can prompt the brain to send signals of sexual arousal down the spinal cord to the nerves in the penis. If everything is working smoothly, small arteries in the penis relax and widen, allowing them to carry more blood than usual. The extra blood flows into two shafts of spongy muscle that run the length of the penis. As the muscle soaks up extra blood, it becomes stiff. The stiffness also closes veins that ordinarily drain blood out of the penis.

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