Keeping up with the latest medical research can be frustrating. Just when you think you've been doing what's best for your health, a study comes along that contradicts your practice.

For various reasons, many men routinely take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®), and naproxen (Aleve® and Anaprox). NSAIDs help alleviate pain and other symptoms of chronic illnesses and are often taken preventatively in certain risk populations to decrease the incidence of heart attacks and stroke.

But new research, conducted at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center indicates that what may be good for your heart may be bad for your sex life.

The study of 80,966 ethnically-diverse men between the ages of 45 and 69 found that the men participating in the study who took NSAIDs on a regular basis were more likely to have erection difficulties than their counterparts who rarely or never use these drugs.

Surprisingly, this was not the result the researchers expected. "We went into the study thinking we would find the opposite effect: that NSAIDs would have a protective effect because they protect against heart disease, which is also linked to ED [erectile dysfunction]," said senior author Steven J. Jacobsen, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist and director of research for Kaiser Permanente Southern California in San Diego in a news release. "The next step is to dive a bit deeper to understand the underlying physiology of what might be happening with these drugs."

In a 2002 study, approximately 47 percent of the volunteers were regular NSAID users (defined as taking NSAIDs at least five days a week or having a prescription for frequent, daily use). Of that group, moderate or severe ED was reported in more than 29 percent. However, NSAID use and ED correlated strongly with age. Regular NSAID use increased from 34.5 percent in men aged 45 to 49 years to 54.7 percent in men aged 60 to 69 years, and ED increased from 13 to 42 percent in these age groups.

This is not the first time ED has been linked with NSAID use. Another study-conducted in Finland-recently reported about this connection. In that study of more than 1,100 Finnish men between the ages of 50 and 70, ED was found to be significantly higher among NSAID users than non-users.

While these findings do not prove that NSAIDs cause ED, they provide a cause for concern. "Men should not stop taking NSAIDs if it's been recommended by their health care provider," Dr. Jacobsen advised. "The association we saw may not have been causal, but needs further investigation because NSAIDs are so widely used to prevent and treat so many conditions." In the meantime, the study's author recommends discussing any ED-related concerns with your physician.

Estimating the incidence of ED is difficult since there are several definitions of the condition. ED can be a total inability to achieve erection, an inconsistent ability to do so, or a tendency to sustain only brief erections. As a result of these variations, estimates range from 15 million to 30 million suffers depending on the definition used.

In older men, ED usually has a physical cause, such as disease, injury, or side effects of drugs. Any disorder that causes injury to the nerves or impairs blood flow in the penis has the potential to cause ED. Incidence increases with age: About five percent of 40-year-old men and 15 to 25 percent of 65-year-old men experience ED. Remember that ED is not an inevitable part of aging.




The Cleveland Clinic

The American Urology Association

The National Kidney and Urological Diseases Information Clearinghouse

The American Heart Association