Cramping Calves and Complicated Crevices: Navigating Sex with Peripheral Artery Disease

Overcoming Peripheral Artery Disease's Impact on Intimacy Navigating the Bedroom

PAD in the Bedroom

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At first, Douglas Salisbury’s peripheral artery disease (PAD) put a cramp in his sex life, quite literally. The 60-year-old retired chemical dependency counselor experienced cramping in his calves during sex, which became an obvious issue. To combat the cramps, Salisbury tried drinking extra water and even applied ancient magnesium oil to his skin, hoping to ease the discomfort. While these remedies provided some relief, Salisbury discovered that the power of gravity was his greatest ally. Simply standing up or hanging his legs off the side of the bed helped alleviate the cramping.

But over time, PAD began to cause even greater problems in the bedroom. Salisbury experienced difficulty in getting and maintaining erections. At first, he thought it was an occasional issue, but soon realized that becoming aroused took longer than usual. His doctor attributed this to the side effects of his medication, but stopping the medication wasn’t always an option for his cardiovascular condition. Determined to find a solution, Salisbury explored alternative approaches, focusing on foreplay and intimacy beyond intercourse. While these techniques satisfied his partner, they didn’t improve his sex drive or help him achieve orgasm. Salisbury had to come to terms with the notion that satisfaction could be found in other intimate ways besides sex itself.

In 2021, Salisbury underwent an axillobifemoral bypass after all other attempts to restore blood flow to his legs had failed. This bypass involved creating a new route for blood flow using an artificial graft, connecting Salisbury’s shoulder to his groin and splitting off into both legs. While the bypass improved blood flow to his legs, it complicated matters in the bedroom. Salisbury noticed that there was less blood flow to his groin, resulting in frequent erectile dysfunction.

According to Kevin Herman, MD, an interventional radiologist, PAD occurs when the arteries narrow, leading to poor blood flow to the penis or vagina. This diminished blood flow makes it difficult to become sexually aroused. Furthermore, erectile dysfunction (ED) is often linked to PAD and can worsen with its progression. Certain medications prescribed for PAD and related conditions can also contribute to sexual problems.

Managing PAD in the Bedroom

Don’t despair if PAD is putting a strain on your sex life. There are ways to stay sexually fulfilled and intimate with your partner. It’s important to consult with your doctor if you experience a low sex drive, as compromised pelvic flow might be a contributing factor. Bryan Fisher, MD, physician lead for Vascular Services, recommends seeking specialist advice to identify causes and explore appropriate treatment strategies.

In the bedroom, couples can discover alternative strategies and devices that provide satisfaction beyond traditional intercourse. Masturbation and sex toys can be used to enhance intimacy. For women with PAD experiencing poor blood flow or vaginal dryness, a water-soluble lubricant can offer relief. Discussing the possibility of hormone replacement therapy with your doctor is also worth considering.

A healthy lifestyle is paramount in improving your sex life. Exercise and weight loss can have a significant impact. Bryan Fisher emphasizes that a healthy lifestyle is often the first step toward achieving sexual satisfaction for both men and women.

A Possible Surgical Option

Recently, Douglas Salisbury discovered a potential, more permanent solution to his bedroom woes. Some doctors are exploring revascularization procedures to restore blood flow to the penis. These procedures involve either opening a blocked vessel using a balloon or stent or bypassing it altogether. Intrigued by this innovative approach, Salisbury is considering revascularization of a narrowed vessel in his groin during a larger procedure aimed at clearing blockages in his abdomen and legs.

Robert R. Attaran, MD, director of the Interventional Cardiology Fellowship Program at Yale New Haven Hospital, explains that while studies have examined the effectiveness of opening blocked arteries to improve sexual function, the results have been mixed. Revascularization hasn’t gained widespread popularity, at least in the United States. It’s crucial to note that penile revascularization is not suitable for everyone, as less than 10% of men with vascular erectile dysfunction are considered ideal candidates. However, for those who do qualify, success rates range from 50% to 67%.

Kym McNicholas, founder of The Way To My Heart, an organization providing advocacy and support to individuals with PAD, highlights that not all vascular specialists possess the necessary skills to perform this procedure. Highly trained endovascular specialists who treat arterial blockages in the abdomen are more likely to have the expertise and willingness to perform revascularization.

While Salisbury remains hopeful that the procedure will improve his bedroom issues, he finds solace and joy in his cherished hobbies, particularly woodworking. Immersing himself in this demanding craft requires his full attention and allows him to create stunning designs.

Don’t let peripheral artery disease put a damper on your intimate life. Consult with your doctor, explore alternative approaches, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Remember, satisfaction can be found in various intimate ways, and with the right course of action, you can navigate the challenges of PAD in the bedroom.

Have you experienced any challenges in the bedroom due to peripheral artery disease? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!