How High Blood Pressure Impacts Your Sex Life
While high blood pressure often has no symptoms, the impact it has on your sex life can be alarming. High blood pressure, or hypertension, damages blood vessels, thus reducing blood flow throughout the body. Lower blood flow can affect the sex lives of both men and women.
Here, we'll discuss how high blood pressure can affect sexual health and well-being, and the common medications that treat it.
The effect on men
Because hypertension gradually damages the lining of the blood vessels, causing arteries to narrow, the end result is blood flow can be limited to the penis. Less blood flow can make it difficult for some men to get and maintain an erection, a condition known as erectile dysfunction (ED). ED is considered an early warning sign of damaged blood vessels.
A survey of 104 men with high blood pressure, published in the Journal of Urology in 2000, found the majority had some form of erectile dysfunction, and for almost half of them, the issue was severe.
According to research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020, men with untreated hypertension have less blood flow to the penis than men with normal blood pressure. However, with appropriate medication, the differences disappeared.
Men with high blood pressure are nearly twice as likely to have impaired penile blood flow and ED compared to men with normal blood pressure. Men with high blood pressure also have an increased risk of heart disease and death. In addition to erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure may also interfere with ejaculation and reduce libido.
The effect on women
Women with high blood pressure may have reduced libido, as well. If the blood flow to the vagina is decreased, it can affect how a woman's body responds before and during sex.
A study of 640 women, published in the American Journal of Hypertension in 2000, indicated women with high blood pressure were much more likely to experience pain during sex. The women in the study were also significantly more likely to suffer from decreased vaginal lubrication and have difficulty reaching orgasm.
The effect of medication
For some men, certain types of blood pressure drugs can cause erectile dysfunction. While many high-blood pressure drugs have been linked to ED, some are much less likely than others to cause sexual dysfunction. Certain drugs may even help resolve erectile dysfunction for some men.
In women, high blood pressure drugs can cause a decrease in libido and difficulty reaching orgasm. Women may notice vaginal dryness, which can cause sex to be painful. However, it's worth noting there is less conclusive research on the sexual effects of high blood pressure and hypertension meds on women than on men.
Of the different types of medications prescribed to reduce blood pressure, diuretics generally cause the most sexual side effects. Diuretics (water pills) can decrease blood flow to the penis, making it difficult to get an erection. These drugs can also decrease the amount of zinc in the body, a substance that's necessary in the production of testosterone. A recent trial established chlorthalidone (a diuretic) as having the highest incidence of ED.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that switching to a newer type of beta blocker can improve symptoms in some men and women. Also, sexual side effects occur less often with other high blood pressure meds, including ACE inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers and calcium-channel blockers.
If you are experiencing symptoms soon after you start taking blood pressure medication, talk to your doctor. They might lower the dose or stop prescribing the drug for a while, and then monitor your symptoms for changes. If you are experiencing sexual problems, it's important to inform your doctor—it could be related to high blood pressure, but could also be related to other medical conditions that may be going untreated.