Congestive Heart Failure And Erectile Dysfunction

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What is congestive heart failure (CHF)?

Congestive heart failure¹ (CHF) is a chronic condition in which the heart pumps inefficiently, resulting in suboptimal blood and oxygen supply to the body and causing fluid buildup in the lungs and legs. 

It often develops after other cardiac problems have weakened or stiffened the heart. CHF can develop directly from the damage caused by a heart attack, or over a longer period of time from conditions such as coronary artery disease. Approximately 6.2 million adults in the United States² suffer from heart failure.

It can be a life-threatening disease. 

Symptoms of congestive heart failure

Primary symptoms of CHF include fatigue, swelling in your feet and legs, weight gain, and the increased need to urinate. Signs of progressive CHF can include an irregular heartbeat, a cough that comes from congested lungs, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

In the case that your CHF becomes life-threatening, you may experience chest pain radiating through the upper body, rapid breathing, and blueness of the skin originating from a lack of oxygen or fainting. If you experience any combination of these symptoms/red flags, seek medical attention immediately.

Is there a link between heart disease and erectile dysfunction?

There is a strong correlation between erectile dysfunction and heart disease in general, and between erectile dysfunction (ED) and CHF in particular. In one study,³ 75% of CHF patients reported suffering from ED.

ED has many possible causes, including blood flow and psychological factors. An erection happens when the blood vessels in the penis open, allowing more blood to flow into the penis, causing enlargement and hardness. ED and heart disease share many common risk factors, such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and smoking. 

So, it can be difficult to distinguish whether ED is caused by heart disease, or if they simply share a common cause. 

Often, heart diseases affect men psychologically as their condition increases their fear of endangering themselves by elevating their heart rate. A study⁴ published in the journal Heart and Lung reported that among patients suffering from heart disease:

"Approximately three quarters reported a marked decrease in sexual interest and in the frequency of sexual relations caused by illness, with one quarter having ceased all sexual activity."

Can heart disease cause ED?

There are many different kinds of heart disease, though some can be grouped by their general effects on the heart. These are:

  • Coronary artery and vascular disease

  • Heart rhythm disorders

  • Structural heart disease

  • Heart failure

Because erections are dependent on blood vessel dilation and blood flow, heart diseases that affect or impede these normal functions can cause ED. Coronary artery diseases are caused by a hardening of the arteries in your heart, and vascular diseases are associated with the reduction of blood flow due to damage in other blood vessels. Structural heart diseases and defects affect the ability of your heart to pump blood around the body. All of the above conditions will affect blood flow, and may contribute to erectile dysfunction.

As noted above, the psychological impacts of suffering from heart disease can also contribute to erectile dysfunction, even if the patient has sufficient blood circulation to physically maintain and create erections. If a man is feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed, he will likely have difficulty maintaining  an erection. 

These feelings can also be a result of having CHF, thus contributing to acquiring ED.

What should men do if they experience both conditions simultaneously?

Generally, any action taken to improve heart health will also improve penis health. Men experiencing both conditions simultaneously should consider making lifestyle changes to improve their cardiac health such as increasing physical exercise (under medical guidance), and refraining from smoking and consuming alcohol.

Some medications for heart diseases, particularly nitrates, are not safe to take in conjunction with medications for erectile dysfunction, since they can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. 

This is due to erectile medications dilating blood vessels, leading to a decrease in blood pressure which can be deadly when combined with other medications with similar effects. In any case, conferring with your medical practitioner is highly advised.

Can you take Viagra with congestive heart failure?

Viagra, also known as sildenafil, is safe to take with CHF. Experts from Mayo Clinic⁵ have shown that patients with "mild to moderate" heart failure can be safely treated with Viagra.

These findings are supported by one study published in the Journal of Impotence Research. 

In the study,³ conducted on patients suffering from CHF, none of the tested subjects showed any side effects from taking Viagra, and the overall results showed a significant improvement in sexual function and quality from treatment using Viagra.

For those unable to take Viagra or other ED medications, it may be helpful to approach their erectile dysfunction with an exercise regimen to improve their cardiac and sexual health.

When to visit your doctor

If you are suffering from ED or symptoms of heart failure such as those listed above, it is a good idea to seek further medical assessments and advice on treatment. 

In the case of more serious symptoms, such as severe shortness of breath, radiating chest pain, numbness, and/or blue skin, seek immediate  medical attention. .

The lowdown

ED affects many men and is a common sign of heart-related issues. Men suffering from congestive heart failure may suffer from increased rates of ED due to their heart’s diminished ability to circulate blood, since  blood flow is integral to maintaining an erection. 

Viagra may be a good option for men wanting to improve their sexual health, though medical advice is recommended, to ensure that the medication is safe to take and doesn’t interfere with any other drugs you may be taking.

Lifestyle changes such as slowly increasing physical activity, not smoking, and not consuming alcohol can  not only improve your CHF, but also your ED.

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