Your penis can serve as a harbinger to health happenings all over your body. One you might not have known? Erection issues can foretell a painful problem with your feet, new research from Keele University in the U.K. suggests.
In the study, researchers followed nearly 48,000 men for an average of 10 years, some with gout—a painful form of arthritis that usually affects the big toe—and others that were healthy. They discovered that men with gout were 31 percent more likely to report erectile dysfunction (ED) than men without the condition.
What’s more, the penis problems can pop up before the painful joint issues even surface: Those with gout were 63 percent more likely to report erectile dysfunction in the year preceding their diagnosis.
And within two years of a gout diagnosis, the risk of ED was 77 percent higher than with healthy guys.
One of the most painful forms of arthritis, gout occurs when too much uric acid builds up in your body. That’s known as hyperuricemia. Deposits of uric acid cluster in your joints, often in the big toe, and can hurt so bad it can wake you up from sleep. The affected joint can be red, swollen, and feel warm to the touch.
The link in the study persisted even after the researchers adjusted for factors that could contribute to erectile dysfunction and gout, including smoking status, higher body mass index (BMI), and alcohol consumption.
While the study can’t definitively prove that one condition causes the other, there are some physiological mechanisms that may link the two, the researchers believe. One possibility? The buildup of excess uric acid in your blood can affect your blood vessels, possibly by triggering vascular smooth muscle proliferation, the researchers write. And that has been linked to plaque buildup.
Big problem for your penis: Plaque buildup in your blood vessels can hinder blood flow—a necessary component to getting and maintaining an erection.
While more research needs to be done to confirm a cause-effect link, the researchers believe that the findings here suggest that erectile problems can point to underlying gout before the painful joint issues even pop up. So that’s one more reason to see your doctor when you start to notice problems with your penis.
This article originally appeared on Menshealth.com.