If you're a man who for some reason hasn't chosen to take COVID-19 seriously despite the 284,440 reported deaths in the United States, well, here's a reason to care that may hit right under the belt: Preliminary research has shown a possible link between COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction.
Dr. Saeed Shoar, a clinical research scientist from Houston, Texas, has authored a study that presents two cases of young men who, after recovering from COVID-19, later exhibited symptoms of ED.
Both men reported a sexual dysfunction known as anorgasmia, a condition in which a person cannot achieve orgasm despite adequate stimulation. In neither case were there any factors besides COVID-19 that were thought to have caused the issue.
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While the research is still in very early stages, Dr. Dena Grayson, an infectious disease specialist, told NBCLX that it should be taken seriously.
"We now know that people can have long term health effects from this virus, neurologic complications, and there is some real concern here that men could have long term issues of erectile dysfunction from this virus, because we know that it causes issues in the vasculature,” said Grayson.
The concern is specifically related to damage done to the cells that line the blood vessels, called the endothelial cells. "There certainly have been several case reports of men who have otherwise been healthy who had prolonged erectile dysfunction months after recovering from COVID so it is a real concern," she said, noting the illness can have “long term, lifelong, potentially, complications.”
In one of Shoar's two cases, a 44-year-old man with no prior history of sexual dysfunction complained at his follow-up survey of anorgasmia.
"He seemed to develop this as a result of COVID-19 encounter. The patient did not mention stressful conditions and denied taking specific medications, using recreational drugs, or suffering psychiatric conditions," Shoar wrote. "His wife had contracted COVID-19 one month earlier and recovered uneventfully."
In a second case study, a 31-year-old man also complained of reported symptoms of anorgasmia after recovering from COVID-19. The patient had not been taking any medication over the last three months and was referred to the sexual disorder and behavioral treatment clinic. The symptoms subsided after about 10 days.
Shoar said that to the best of his knowledge this is the first study of anorgasmia in survivors of COVID-19. But he said the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection on the sexual dysfunction are unknown.
Another study conducted in July 2020 on COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction also suggested that the virus “might exacerbate cardiovascular conditions; therefore, further increasing the risk of ED,” noting that “COVID-19 survivors might develop sexual and reproductive health issues.”
There are also other physicians are taking note. Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a male sexual function specialist at Stanford University Medical Center, told Yahoo Life that the report of a link "certainly doesn't surprise me," although he said the risk is still "theoretical."
Khera explained that the damaged endothelium cells that have caused heart attacks in some patients with COVID-19 could also affect sexual performance.
Although the CDC does not list impotence as a reported outcome of the disease, both Grayson and Shoar noted that experts are learning more and more about the disease and its aftermath as the number of infections grows.
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So bottom line. If you're a man recovering from COVID-19 should you be worried about some sort of erectile dysfunction? The answer is a firm (no pun intended) ... maybe.
"Our knowledge is still premature. Nobody has found any direct involvement of the virus in the male genital system," Shoar said. "We've proposed some hypotheses but no one has isolated the virus directly in the male genitals... and have correlated it with these sexual dysfunctions."
Grayson agreed it's too early from the sporadic number of case reports she's aware of to determine how common ED may be, but she says there's one sure way to protect yourself – by taking preventative measures from getting the disease in the first place by wearing a mask.
"I just hope that young people wake up and realize even if you don't have any serious symptoms at the time, you may have long term morbidity from this virus," she says. "Even if you don't get really really sick initially, it can cause long term potentially lifelong issues."
"Wear a mask," she added. "Don't put yourself in a situation where you're at risk."