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Hypertension and Stroke Special Report

Hypertension and Your Sex Life

Research shows that men and women with hypertension are twice as likely to experience sexual problems as individuals without high blood pressure. The reason: Healthy blood vessels are essential to sexual function, but high blood pressure damages blood vessels and impairs their ability to work properly. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize these effects and continue to have a satisfying sex life. Here's what we know.

Hypertension leads to narrowing of the arteries because of plaque buildup. It also causes endothelial dysfunction, meaning that the arteries are unable to relax and dilate to accommodate an increase in blood flow. In both cases, the result is reduced blood flow to the sex organs. However, sufficient blood flow is a crucial step in sexual arousal and function in both men and women.

Blood Pressure Drugs and Your Sexual Function. If you're taking medication to lower your blood pressure and experience sexual function problems, ask your physician if your medication might be contributing to the problem. While treating high blood pressure typically improves sexual problems by improving the function of the blood vessels, diuretics and beta-blockers have been linked to sexual dysfunction.

On the other hand, blood pressure medications such as ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and calcium channel blockers are much less likely to lead to sexual problems. In fact, studies show that ARBs like losartan (Cozaar) and valsartan (Diovan) may actually improve sexual function when used to treat hypertension.

What To Do. There is no need to live with sexual dysfunction. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and talking to your physician about other steps you can take, including changes to your blood pressure medications and using oral erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs or vaginal lubricants, can help you achieve a healthy sex life.

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Many of the same lifestyle measures recommended to lower blood pressure can also help. These measures include smoking cessation, losing excess weight, and increasing physical activity.
  • Ask your physician about possible changes to your blood pressure medication. If you're taking a diuretic or beta-blocker, ask whether you can take a lower dosage or switch to another type of blood pressure medication -- like an ACE inhibitor, ARB, or calcium channel blocker -- that is less likely to have sexual side effects.
  • Get other health conditions under control. Hypertension is not the only health issue that can impair sexual function. Diabetes, heart disease, and depression are contributing factors as well. Getting treatment for these conditions may help improve your sex life, too.
  • Try an ED drug if you're a man. Three ED medications are available: sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). These drugs help improve endothelial function and are safe for men on most blood pressure medications.
  • Try lubricants if you're a woman. If vaginal dryness is causing you pain during sexual intercourse, using an over-the-counter lubricant may solve the problem. Prescription creams containing estrogen also can help.
  • Do Not Be Embarrassed. Many people hesitate to bring up sexual function concerns with their physician. However, do not be embarrassed. Satisfaction with your sex life is an important part of your overall well-being and something your physician can help you address.

Posted in Hypertension and Stroke on August 3, 2010

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