Men taking multiple medications for different health conditions may have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction—a link that doesn't seem to be explained by the health problems themselves, a new study finds.
It's known that men with chronic health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction, or ED, than healthier men their age.
But in the new study, researchers found a link between medication use and ED independently of those medical conditions.
Of 37,700 men in a large California health plan, researchers found that those on three or more medications had higher rates of ED.
Overall, 16 percent of men on no more than two drugs reported moderate ED—meaning they "sometimes" had trouble getting or maintaining an erection. That compared with 20 percent of men on three to five medications, a quarter of men on six to nine drugs and 31 percent of those on at least 10 drugs.
Not surprisingly, ED was more common in men who were older, heavier, smoked or had health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure. But even when the researchers accounted for that, being on multiple medications was still tied to an increased ED risk.
Men on three to five medications were 15 percent more likely to report ED than those on fewer drugs. And the odds were more than doubled among men on 10 or more medications.
The findings do not prove that the drugs themselves are to blame, said senior researcher Dr. Steven J. Jacobsen, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research and Evaluation.
"We did try to control for the underlying conditions," he told Reuters Health in an email, "but we may not have completely accounted for aspects such as severity."
Still, he added, "the data suggest that some characteristic of men on multiple medications may predispose them to ED."
The findings, reported in the British Journal of Urology International, are based on questionnaires given to 37,712 men ages 45 to 69. Overall, 29 percent reported moderate or severe.
More than half of the men—57 percent—were on more than three medications in the past year. And as expected, men with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or depression tended to be on more medications.
Jacobsen said that it's possible the drugs themselves could contribute to or worsen ED—via drug interactions, for instance. But there's no way to tell for sure from these findings.
What is clear, he stressed, is that men with erectile problems should not simply stop taking their prescriptions.
"Men should certainly not stop taking their medications without consulting their provider," he said.
But, Jacobsen added, men with ED who are on multiple drugs could ask their doctor if the problem might be related to the medication. It might be possible to lower a drug dose, or try an alternative treatment.