High blood pressure and erectile dysfunction (ED) often go hand in hand. While having high blood pressure (hypertension) itself may not initially cause any symptoms, it will damage your arteries over time, leading them to become less flexible and progressively more narrow. This not only increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, but has the potential to compromise blood flow to many organs in the body, including the penis, if left untreated.
Can high blood pressure affect erectile dysfunction?
Having chronically high blood pressure can affect overall satisfaction with sex and affect men’s ability to achieve a firm erection. Due to constant vessel damage as a result of high blood pressure, linings of the arteries begin to harden and narrow, a process called atherosclerosis. Because blood flow is limited to the affected regions of the body, arterial blood circulation to various organs—including the heart muscles, brain, and even the groin—can be compromised, with myocardial infarctions, strokes, and erectile difficulty being common in hypertensive patients. Studies show that approximately 30 percent of hypertensive patients reported having erectile dysfunction, and approximately 49 percent of men aged 40 to 79 had both high blood pressure and ED.
How do blood pressure drugs cause erectile dysfunction?
The medications used to treat high blood pressure do not take into account the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, as their intention is to lower the blood pressure to a more manageable state, reducing the stress put on blood vessels. High blood pressure and ED are seen as separate entities, with the former taking priority for pharmaceutical treatment. This means that the medications used might do nothing to cure erectile dysfunction and may, in fact, prolong it. Medications that lower blood pressure might actually cause a low blood pressure state in the groin area and the arteries supplying the penis, making it near impossible to achieve an erection. The following are examples of such medications:
Beta-blockers: A popular blood pressure medication that affects part of the nervous system in an attempt to slow and regulate heartbeats, helping reduce blood pressure. Unfortunately, this same part of the nervous system is also responsible for causing erections, and when beta blockers are used, it indirectly reduces the amount of blood flow to the penis.
Common beta blockers include:
- Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL)
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Propranolol (Inderal)
- Carvedilol (Coreg)
Diuretics: Also called water pills, this medication is a common treatment for reducing blood pressure. They work by getting rid of unnecessary water and salt in the urine. This essentially helps lower blood pressure and can make it easier for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, diuretics can reduce the blood flow to the penis, making erections difficult to achieve. Zinc levels have been known to diminish due to diuretic use, which may lead to a decreased production of overall testosterone.
Common diuretics include
- Furosemide (Lasix)
- Bumetanide (Bumex)
- Ethacrynic acid (Edecrin)
High blood pressure and erectile dysfunction treatment
There is a new medication available that helps men achieve strong and firm erections and is relatively safe for use with the aforementioned drugs, making it possible to treat erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure simultaneously.
Viagra, Cialis, Levita, and Staxyn all work in a similar fashion and make it physically possible to get an erection when aroused. However, men whose blood pressure is poorly controlled and who take alpha-blockers for high blood pressure treatment should not take any of these treatments for erectile dysfunction as it may reduce blood pressure to critically low levels, causing fainting or sudden death. Also, you may be prohibited to use these drugs if you demonstrate any of the following:
- Take nitrate drugs (for chest pain)
- Had a heart attack or stroke in the past six months
- Have kidney or liver disease
- Have retinitis pigmentosa (and eye disease)
For those looking to treat high blood pressure and sex dysfunctions, alternative medications do exist. There are some families of blood pressure drugs that are known to rarely cause erectile dysfunction side effects. They are:
- Ace inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Angiotensin receptor blockers
- Alpha blockers
Talk to your doctor
Admitting to your doctor that you are having trouble achieving an erection can be difficult, but take comfort in the fact that they are not judging you and are there to improve your health and well-being. If you are just beginning a blood pressure treatment regimen and are beginning to experience erectile dysfunction, tell your doctor as soon as you can—they can solve the problem by simply changing the prescription.
Healthy lifestyle tips for low blood pressure and an improved sex life
There are many things you can do to improve your overall and sexual health that don’t require the aid of pharmaceutical medication. The following are healthy lifestyle choices designed to lower blood pressure and potentially improve your sex life:
- Quit smoking or using tobacco
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet
- Lose weight
- Eat healthy food
- Limit alcohol consumption
When dealing with certain medical conditions, it is important to focus treatment toward the root of the problem. If you were to properly manage your high blood pressure without the use of any confounding medications and instead employ a lifestyle change, both ailments would likely disappear. While this would be the ideal case, it isn’t the reality for most patients. Medications are great for controlling high blood pressure, but it’s important to speak with your doctor about any concerns before taking them.