High blood pressure could hurt your sex life.

Many people know that high blood pressure contributes to cardiovascular problems and can increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. But it also can impact your sex life.

About 78 million Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension), which is sometimes called the “silent killer.” High blood pressure overworks your body’s heart and other organs and can damage the lining of blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

It also affects blood flow, and blockages can prevent adequate flow to the pelvis and affect the sex lives of both men and women, said Dr. Gina Lundberg, an American Heart Association volunteer.

“In a man, it’s a little more obvious,” Dr. Lundberg said, explaining that high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction.

Effective blood flow through the arteries and veins is needed for an erection. Even in his mid-30s, a man can have high blood pressure that causes problems with sex, she said. That can be a sign for a doctor to check for high blood pressure and other problems.

Sometimes erectile dysfunction “can be the only indicator of underlying heart disease risk, ” Dr. Lundberg said. She said all of these patients should be evaluated for risk factors.

Women Feel Effects, Too
Women with high blood pressure may have lower libido and less interest in sex, according to Dr. Lundberg, a preventive cardiologist and clinical director for Emory Women’s CardiovascularHealthCenter in Atlanta.

“What woman wants to have sex if she feels tired and wiped out all the time?” she said.

Primary care physicians, gynecologists and endocrinologists treat high blood pressure. Your primary care physician may refer you to a cardiologist based on risk factors and symptoms.

Stress, Medicine Also Factors
Stress and anxiety can be connected to high blood pressure and to sexual dysfunction, Dr. Lundberg added. In such situations, men may be less likely to perform sexually or they may experience less sexual satisfaction. Women may be less likely to desire sex during stressful times.

Like high blood pressure, medication to treat it can affect sexual performance. For example, erectile dysfunction is sometimes a side effect of medications like beta-blockers and occasionally ACE inhibitors.

What To Do About It
It’s generally safe to have sex if you have high blood pressure, Dr. Lundberg said.

To prevent or control high blood pressure:

  Eat nutritious foods

  Shake the salt habit

  Get regular exercise

  Maintain a healthy weight

  Manage stress

  Avoid tobacco smoke

  Limit alcohol consumption

Dr. Lundberg warns that you shouldn’t avoid treating your high blood pressure for fear that medication will negatively affect your sex life, and don’t quit taking your prescribed medicine. Working with your doctor to find the right medication for you may help with both conditions.

Her main message: High blood pressure can be dangerous — even deadly — and may need treatment.

Even with no other symptoms, she said, sexual dysfunction could indicate you have high blood pressure and related cardiovascular problems. See your healthcare provider to get the help you need.