Mr Duncan J Summerton
Consultant Urological Surgeon, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
Honorary Associate Professor, University of Leicester President, British Association of Urological Surgeons
While there might not be an underlying cardiovascular cause identified, the risk factors associated with erectile dysfunction include smoking, alcohol, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, reduced levels of exercise and depression.
It can be difficult, more than difficult for some, to go to your GP and talk about a problem with your ‘downstairs’.
But, stigma and embarrassment aside, a number of us may not necessarily know which parts of the body ‘urology’ specifically refers to, with the UK lagging behind the rest of Europe on patient education.
That’s according to Consultant Urological Surgeon, Mr Duncan Summerton, from The University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
What does ‘urology’ actually refer to?
“Essentially, we’re talking about the urinary tract, comprising of the kidneys, the bladder, the prostate, urethra, testes and the penis.” Urology also covers non-cancerous as well as cancer of these organs.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is just one of a number of many medical complaints that fall under the tag of being a urological issue, with bladder and prostate problems also making up a large percentage of the complaints dealt with by GPs in the UK.
However, it appears to be the most difficult to talk about, with men’s partners often playing a big part in encouraging their other halves to talk to their GP.
A visit to the GP is important, as erectile dysfunction can be an indicator of more serious underlying cardiovascular problems.
Erectile dysfunction may be a sign of poor cardiovascular health
The arteries that supply blood to the penis are roughly the same diameter of those that supply the heart, so, an issue downstairs may suggest the patient needs to be investigated more fully from a general and cardiac viewpoint.
“Around 6% of men who complain of ED will have some form of cardiovascular episode (twice the rate of those men who don’t suffer from ED) within three years, so it’s really important that men from middle-age upwards do talk about it with their GP.
“Once someone presents with erectile dysfunction, invariably they’ll have a full health screening to ensure that there isn’t anything more serious at play.”
With the links to other potential underlying issues with the heart, slightly older men may have a reason to finally take that jump. Yet, Mr Summerton believes all sufferers would benefit from more public figures talking about their erectile issues.
“Prostate cancer had the likes of Buzz Aldrin and Stirling Moss act as role models in talking about their illness, yet erectile dysfunction still carries that stigma.”
Indeed, until recently, very few men had spoken publicly. Now though, England cricket legend, Ian Botham, has gone on record, describing how much treatment for his erectile dysfunction has helped him, saying it was the “best health decision he’d ever made.”
So, the message is clear. Going and seeing your GP could both open up a range of options and may even save your life.