Can Stents for Heart Disease Treat Erectile Dysfunction?
The battle against erectile dysfunction (ED) may have just received a new weapon from an unexpected source.
Some surgeons are using heart stents—small, mesh tubes placed in obstructed arteries and expanded to permit better blood flow—to help men with ED.
We'll talk about the innovative ways doctors are using stents to help combat ED, but first, let's look at what stents are and how they are typically used.
What is a stent?
As men age, arteries can develop plaque or fatty blockages, which can reduce the amount of blood flow.
Depending on diet and exercise level, plaque buildup can be significant enough to cause serious health problems. For instance, if the blockage prevents enough blood from reaching the heart, it can cause chest pain and coronary heart disease.
Doctors have developed a workaround by using a stent—a small tube made of metal or plastic mesh, or other fabric for larger stents—placed inside a partially blocked artery to help facilitate blood flow by widening the passageway.
How is a stent implanted in the heart?
Stenting is a minimally invasive procedure that begins with the doctor inserting a catheter into an artery in your groin or arm. Using the catheter and other tools, sometimes including a camera, the doctor guides the stent to the artery where the blockage is present.
Once the catheter reaches the spot where significant plaque buildup is constricting blood flow, the doctor places the stent where it will do the most good and inflates a small balloon. This balloon pushes open the artery, and the stent expands into place. The balloon is then deflated and the catheter is withdrawn. The stent remains as scaffolding, propping the artery open.
What do stents have to do with erectile dysfunction?
First of all, it's important to remember that if you have atherosclerosis, there's a good chance you experience erectile dysfunction.
The reverse is also true. One 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that men who experienced ED were more likely to suffer subsequent heart disease.
ED is considered a predictive marker for men who are likely to develop heart issues. According to a 2013 study published in PLoS Medicine, having ED increases your risk for cardiovascular hospitalization as well as all-cause mortality.
Here's where stents can help.
Good blood circulation is a key component to producing viable erections, so having a stent implanted in an artery near your heart should increase general blood flow and may help with erectile dysfunction.
However, we know the pudendal arteries—arteries that supply the muscles and organs of your pelvic region with blood—can sometimes have blockages as well. Some doctors have been working with men facing ED issues by placing stents in arteries located inside the pelvis (not the penis) to try to increase blood flow to the genitalia.
One promising pilot study (not yet peer-reviewed) presented at the 2012 Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting indicated that placing a stent in the pudendal artery gave 59 percent of the 30 men involved in the study improved erectile function after 30 days. That figure jumped to 84 percent after 12 months, though only 19 men remained in the study for the entire year.
Resorting to this procedure wouldn't be anyone's first choice, and if it were to be used more widely, it would likely be strictly for men who don't respond to ED meds or other treatment options.
Blood flow, as always, is a key component in getting and maintaining viable erections. Keeping your arteries healthy via a sensible diet and exercise program is the best medicine, but relatively low-risk procedures such as inserting a stent can be a great help.
At some point in the future, stenting arteries nearer the groin may be able to assist more directly with blood flow to the penis, and preventing and treating erectile dysfunction.
Giddy Urologist Dr. Edwin Morales explains in depth how certain medical conditions including heart disease can affect blood flow and erectile function. Click here to watch the video.