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Does High Blood Pressure Cause ED? What You Need to Know

Does High Blood Pressure Cause ED?

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High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common medical conditions, affecting about one in every four American adults.

It’s also closely linked to erectile dysfunction. Because of this, bringing your blood pressure into the healthy, optimal range isn’t just good for your overall health -- it’s also a good way to reduce the risk of experiencing erection problems and improve your sexual confidence.

Blood pressure and blood flow both play a major role in helping you develop and maintain an erection. Below, we’ll explain how blood pressure affects ED, as well as some tactics you can use to lower your blood pressure into the healthy range.

How Blood Flow Affects Erections

To most men, getting an erection is something that happens naturally after some form of sexual stimulation and arousal. But internally, the process is much more complicated, requiring several different parts of the body to work in unison.

When you feel aroused, your brain signals to tissue in your penis. The corpora cavernosa -- two cylindrical areas of tissue that run from the base of your penis to the tip -- begin to dilate, letting blood flow into your penis and expand the tissue.

You can almost think of the process like water filling a balloon. As more blood flows in, the level of pressure increases and the penis gets harder. Your body also signals to tissue around your penis to prevent blood from leaving the tissue, leading to a lasting erection.

After sex or once the stimulation ends, the level of pressure on the veins surrounding the penis decreases, causing blood to flow out and softening the erection.

High blood pressure makes every aspect of this process more challenging for your body, since the arteries that are responsible for transporting blood into the penis are less able to dilate and allow for steady, consistent blood flow.

How High Blood Pressure Causes Erectile Dysfunction

High blood pressure puts stress on all of your body’s organs, making it a medical condition that everyone should pay attention to. It’s also closely linked to erection issues. In total, about 30% of men with hypertension also have some degree of erectile dysfunction.

There are both direct effects and indirect effects of high blood pressure on erection quality and consistency. Before we get into the ways hypertension can indirectly affect erections, let’s look at the direct effects that it has on ED.

High Blood Pressure and Blood Flow

Normal, unobstructed blood flow is the key to healthy erections. When you feel aroused, your body increases the level of blood flow to tissue inside the penis, filling the corpora cavernosa and giving you an erection.

High blood pressure can make this more difficult by damaging blood vessels. Hypertension is closely linked to narrowed, ruptured or otherwise damaged blood vessels -- an issue that can negatively affect blood flow and even potentially increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

Damaged blood vessels result in weaker, less consistent blood flow throughout your body -- a condition that makes developing an erection much more difficult.

When there isn’t enough blood flow to fill the corpora cavernosa, you might have trouble with getting and maintaining an erection. Sometimes, high blood pressure might not produce total ED -- instead, you might notice slightly weaker erections that are harder to maintain.

High Blood Pressure and Male Sex Drive

High blood pressure is also closely linked to a decline in testosterone levels, the key hormone that’s responsible for sex drive in men. Research from 2002 notes that men with hypertension typically had lower levels of testosterone than men with normal or optimal blood pressure.

Since testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men and a major factor in promoting normal sexual performance, high blood pressure can produce a “double hit” of ED by making it harder to get an erection while also reducing hormonal sexual interest and performance.

High Blood Pressure and Sexual Performance

Finally, high blood pressure can have a negative effect on sexual performance because it can cause blood vessel walls to harden and make it difficult to get enough blood flow to the penis to maintain a strong erection.

High blood pressure can also make physical exercise more of a challenge. This can lead to people exercising less and not being in the best physical condition for optimal sexual performance.

While sex doesn’t burn as many calories as most people think (4.2 calories in men a minute and 3.1 in women), it can be a physically exerting activity that works your cardiovascular and respiratory system. Because of this, good general health is closely correlated with better sexual performance.

How to Lower Your Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor about how you can safely and sustainably reduce it. Your doctor might recommend making changes to your lifestyle, or they may recommend using medication to regulate your blood pressure.

Often, high blood pressure is caused by several factors at once. Below, we’ve listed some of the most effective steps you can take to naturally lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of experiencing blood pressure-induced ED:

  • If you’re overweight, change your diet and lifestyle to help you lose weight and return to the healthy range. Weight, and fat around the waist in particular, are closely correlated with higher-than-normal blood pressure levels.
  • Exercise frequently. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise such as jogging and cycling, can naturally lower your blood pressure. Often, as little as 30 minutes of steady exercise per day is enough to significantly reduce your average blood pressure level.
  • Reduce your sodium intake. If your diet is high in sodium, it can increase your average blood pressure level by as much as 8 mm Hg. One of the most effective ways to lower your blood pressure is to reduce your consumption of salty, sodium-heavy foods.  
  • Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, as well as potentially lowering the effects of blood pressure medication. Cigarettes and cigars also increase your blood pressure, often by a significant amount.
  • Change your diet. Finally, diet is closely linked with blood pressure. By reducing your intake of saturated fat and increasing your intake of green vegetables and low fat foods, you may be able to produce a slight reduction in your blood pressure.

Lower High Blood Pressure for Better Overall Health

High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” for good reason -- over time, it can seriously strain every organ in your body, from your heart to your kidneys, liver and brain. This means it increases the risk of everything from a stroke to ischemic heart disease.

If you have high blood pressure, it’s important that you take action and make changes to your life. Doing so won’t only improve your sexual performance and help you reduce the effects of ED -- it can also help you live longer and enjoy a higher general quality of life.

This article was reviewed by Ho Anh, MD.