Sexual Dysfunction as a Harbinger of Cardiovascular Disease in Postmenopausal Women: How Far Are We?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The journal of sexual medicine




Cardiovascular Diseases; Doppler Ultrasound; Female Sexual Dysfunction; Female Sexual Response; Gender Differences; Sexual Distress


BACKGROUND: Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) affects 40-50% of women in the general population, resulting from the interaction among organic, psychological, sociocultural and relational factors; differently from men, in women definitive clinical evidence suggesting a connection between cardiovascular (CV) diseases (CVDs) and female sexual function is still lacking. AIM: To focus on the current scientific support for an association between CV diseases and/or risk factors and FSD, focused primarily on postmenopausal women. METHODS: This is a narrative review based on an extensive literature search of peer-reviewed publications on the associations between CV diseases and/or risk factors and FSD and their underlying mechanisms, which was performed using the PubMed database. OUTCOMES: We present a summary of the evidence from clinical and preclinical studies and discuss the possible mechanisms providing the pathophysiologic bases of vasculogenic FSD. RESULTS: Growing evidence shows that female sexual function, especially arousal, is significantly affected by genital vascular impairment, which can lead to FSD. For many cardiometabolic risk factors and diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia and metabolic syndrome, an adverse impact on endothelial function as well as an association with FSD have been recognized. In this scenario, similarly to penile Doppler blood flow studies in men, clitoral Doppler ultrasound can represent an innovative and useful tool to early reveal the presence of CV risk factors and sexual dysfunction. Notably, although the prevalence of CVDs as well as of FSD increases as a function of menopause and aging, middle-aged women have shown a higher prevalence of distressing sexual problems than older and younger women. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: It becomes clinically relevant to assess particularly postmenopausal women for FSD and CVDs, since both disorders still remain underdiagnosed and sub-optimally untreated. Clitoral Doppler ultrasound could represent a useful technique to diagnose the presence of underlying CVD, which along with risk factors could predict sexual dysfunction in women. STRENGTHS & LIMITATIONS: This review focuses on a very important and innovative topic, providing a context for describing, elaborating and evaluating the relevant theory that sexual dysfunction could be a harbinger for CVDs also in women. However, its narrative nature as well as the lack of specifically designed studies to assess a definitive association between FSD and CVDs represent the principle limitations of this paper. CONCLUSION: Postmenopausal women, particularly those in the middle-age range, should be assessed for CV risk factors and FSD, so that both CVDs and sexual problems do not persist unnoticed. S Cipriani, JA Simon. Sexual Dysfunction as a Harbinger of Cardiovascular Disease in Postmenopausal Women: How Far Are We? J Sex Med 2022;XX:XXX-XXX.


Obstetrics and Gynecology