Sleep Apnoea and Erectile Dysfunction

Although it may sound counter intuitive, there appears to be a rather robust relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction. In this article we explore why limited research has addressed this relationship in depth.

Sleep disorders appear to be more common in some populations than other. One sleep disorder that is particular common in men with erectile dysfunction (ED) is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is characterised by pauses in breathing during sleep, which can last up to several minutes. It is known that OSA is related to hormonal alterations, changes in microvascular perfusion and endothelial function.

Although ED and OSA often occur together, it is not clear whether one causes the other or whether they occur due to some common underlying mechanism. One of the areas that has been particularly problematic in research is the definition of both ED and OSA, which have varied and made it challenging to compare findings. In addition to that, it has been argued that other factors (such as advanced age of patients, hypertension and diabetes) have clouded the potential relationship between OSA and ED.

Despite the fact that both sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction are related to health risks and lead to poorer quality of life, little research has considered the issue at length. We were surprised to see that a simple search on PubMed only showed two published studies this year that had been considering both OSA and ED. Both of those studies were concerned with treatment of OSA rather than the cause of OSA and ED.

It is strange that the research is so limited, especially as it could have high prognostic value and affect treatment of patients. However, it is also likely that the potentially complex patho-physiology acts as a deterrent for many researchers and investors. Until more studies come out, both clinicians and patients would do well with not ignoring the occurrence of OSA and ED.

There has been research in this area before. Here is an interesting report from 2008 -