According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, depression has been linked to an increased risk of heart problems in men with erectile dysfunction or ED.

The study, published in August of 2010, was conducted by a team led by Dr. Elisa Bandini at the University of Florence in Italy.  After controlling for other risk factors, it was found that men with ED who also experienced severe depression had an increased risk for cardiovascular problems.  It has been previously determined that depression and erectile dysfunction are both risk factors for  heart disease, but this study showed that these factors are independent of one another.

To begin the study, 1687 patients with erectile dysfunction completed the Middlesex Hospital Questionnaire to screen for depression.  Those with the highest scores were compared with the others, and results showed a positive link between depressive symptoms and erectile dysfunction.

Measurements were taken over a mean interval of 4.3 years which showed a total of 139 cardiovascular incidents resulting in 15 fatalities.  These incidents were significantly linked with depressive symptoms.  In an independent Cox regression model which controlled for level of erectile dysfunction, partner’s sexual desire, age, chronic disease score and other factors, severe depression was again associated with a higher incidence of cardiovascular problems.

The relationship between erectile dysfunction, depression and heart problems can be confusing.  For instance, depression may cause ED, as a depressive episode often results in reduced libido and sexual activity.  Or, erectile dysfunction may lead to depression, as the onset of ED sometimes produces depressive, somatic or anxious symptoms.  Also, depressed patients may be at a higher risk for cardiac events because they are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as cigarette smoking, non-compliance with medication and inactivity.

While the effect of treatment for depression on cardiovascular problems has yet to be determined, this study suggests that the recognition of depressive symptoms in patients with erectile dysfunction is crucial - not only for improving sex life, but also for preventing heart disease.  Regular cardiac screening among men with erectile dysfunction is important and even greater for those patients that also experience depression.

High-risk lifestyle choices can contribute to ED, depression and heart problems.  These include long-term use of alcohol and/or tobacco, chronic recreational use of drugs and a poor diet full of processed, refined and fast foods.  Improper nutrition can also lead to vascular disease, which is the most common cause of ED as it results in a restriction of blood flow to the penis.

Patients with ED or depression can improve symptoms and deter cardiac events by incorporating healthy practices into their lifestyle.  It is important to limit high-risk behaviors, get plenty of cardiovascular exercise, choose foods that are nutritious and high in fiber and drink plenty of water (at least 64 ounces daily).  There are many vitamin health supplements and heart health supplements on the market that may also be helpful.