Varying Degrees of Erectile Dysfunction found in 68%
Background: I have received several inquiries about erectile dysfunction (ED) from men with COPD as well as from their partners. Most of those diagnosed with COPD are middle-aged or older. Both COPD and aging are associated with decreases in testosterone levels and sexual function in men.
Study: Dr. Turan and colleagues from Afyon, Turkey, reported the results of a study in 93 out-patient males with COPD. All had extensive testing of lung function, arterial blood gases, and several different questionnaires. The findings were published in the February 2016 issue of the journal, Chronic Respiratory Disease (volume 13; pages 5 -12). doi:10.1177/1479972315619382. Results: The average age was 61 years of age. Varying degrees of ED were found in 68% of subjects. All of those who had a low oxygen level in the blood had ED. Those with ED reported more breathlessness with daily activities and were less physically active compared to those without ED. Those with moderate and with severe ED had a statistically lower score for mental health. Conclusions:A low blood oxygen level, current smoking, and low physical activity were associated with ED in the study patients. Quality of life was negatively affected by the presence of ED.
My Comments: There is limited information available about ED in COPD. In a study published in the journal Lung in October 2012, Dr. Collins and colleagues found that 72% of 90 men with moderate to severe COPD had experienced ED (DOI:10.1007/s00408-012-9398-4). Most were dissatisfied with their current and expected sexual function. Low testosterone levels, symptoms of depression, and the presence of a partner were associated with ED.
In a search of articles in the medical literature, I could not find any reports of sexual function in women with COPD.
As there are both physical and psychological causes of sexual dysfunction, I encourage all of those with COPD to discuss any questions and concerns about sexual dysfunction with their health care provider. If he/she does not answer your questions satisfactorily, ask to see a specialist (urologist) to discuss your concerns.
Mild dysfunction may be related to stress, fear, or anxiety and can often be successfully treated with counseling, education, and improved communication between partners. In many situations, medications, mechanical aids, and sex therapy may be helpful.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.