Erectile dysfunction is a problem many men don't want to talk about, but their lives could depend on it, say doctors.

While drugs like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra can help the condition, the trouble is they may only be treating a symptom for something much more serious.

Sexual medicine physician Dr. Stacy Elliott said ED can be a clue to other serious health issues, acting as much of a red flag for heart disease as smoking or a family history.

"Erectile dysfunction is now being looked at as a canary in the coal mine for cardiovascular disease," Elliott told CTV News.

Like your age, the younger you are the more likely ED is a sign you're at risk of heart disease. Men under 50 are especially high risk.

It's the same story if you have ED and diabetes, depression or high blood pressure.

But many young men might be ignoring the problem. While most people think of ED as something men in their golden years deal with, it also can affect middle aged and younger men.

More than 50 per cent of men in their 50's have issues. But so do one-third of men in their 40's and 10 per cent of men between 18 and 24-years-old.

Still, only one in 10 actually see their doctors about the problem.

"I think one of the most common misconceptions around erectile dysfunction is that it's ‘all in your head,'" Elliott said.

Couples and sex therapist Dr. David McKenzie said he always advises his clients with any kind of sexual dysfunction that may have a physiological basis to see their medical doctor for a blood test.

"And every other kind of test you can get to rule out any physical pathology," he said.

The good news is that a healthy lifestyle, including not smoking, can improve your cardiovascular health -- and performance in the bedroom.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Dr. Rhonda Low