Up to half of men under the age of 50 are suffering erectile dysfunction, according to new research.

Scientists say that impotence rates have more than doubled in the last 25 years as guys struggle to perform between the sheets.

The embarrassing problem is becoming alarmingly common among the under 50s, warn scientists.

But it could save lives – by identifying those most at risk of a heart attack, stroke or premature death.

Being a flop in bed can be an early warning sign of high blood pressure or cholesterol – and even diabetes.

The worldwide study of Impotence was linked with increased risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD), dementia and early death.

It can also be a sign of an enlarged prostate gland, which can trigger urinary problems.

Erections depend on a healthy blood flow to the penis. When this is reduced it can damage other organs, including the heart and brain.

Detecting problems when they first develop may help improve quality of life – and also prevent serious illnesses with lifestyle changes or medications such as statins.

First author Anna Kessler, a urologist at King’s College London, said: “Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, physicians should consider screening for erectile dysfunction in at-risk patients, as information may not be volunteered.”

Her team pooled data from dozens of studies involving tens of thousands of participants in their teens to their 80s from across the world, including the UK.

Ms Kessler said: “Young men aged under 40 years had an exceptionally high prevalence of erectile dysfunction.”

Up to 50 per cent of under 50s were affected. One study of under 40s in Brazil found it was more common in 18 to 25 year olds (35.6%) than those aged 26 to 40 (30.7%).

Global prevalence was up to three in four – with older individuals most vulnerable, reports BJU International.

Rates for North America, South America, Europe, Oceania, Asia and Africa were up to 46.3%, 14%, 76.5%, 49.4%, 65% and 53.6%, respectively.

The risk of death from CVD or any cause rose 43 and 26 percent, respectively, among men with erectile dysfunction. They were also 68 percent more likely to develop
dementia.

Ms Kessler, a student in the School of Medicine, said: “Erectile dysfunction constitutes a large burden on society given its high prevalence and impact on quality of life, and
is also a risk factor for CVD, dementia, and all-cause mortality.”

It is estimated 322 million men worldwide will be affected by 2025, an increase from
152 million men in 1995. It also significantly affects the quality of life of men’s partners.

Ms Kessler said: “Partners of men with erectile dysfunction experience lower sexual satisfaction, correlated to the degree of erectile dysfunction in their partner.”

She added: “The global prevalence of erectile dysfunction is high and represents a significant burden on the quality of life of men and their partners.

“It is not simply a consequence of physiological ageing, but also a symptom of pathology, such as CVD, prostate gland enlargement and dementia.

“It has been identified as a risk marker for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, as well as all-cause mortality.

“Early detection may, therefore, improve primary prevention of CVD and mortality, as well as improving quality of life by treating erectile dysfunction itself. Young men are also affected.”

The landmark study backs a survey of young British earlier this year that found six in ten avoid sex because of ‘performance anxiety’.

Around 11.7 million fellas in the UK struggle to rise to the occasion, with one in eight experiencing problems every time.

This has led one in five of those affected, some 2.5 million, to give up romping altogether.

Two million victims say erectile dysfunction has damaged their relationships and it has contributed to one million breakups.

One in three impotent blokes have not confided in their partner, preferring instead to make up excuses for avoiding sex.

The most common include being tired from work or the gym, feeling unwell or being too drunk.

The findings were based on a poll of 2,000 participants, with the results extrapolated to the general population.

Lifestyle changes including losing weight, stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising daily are all known ways to improve a man’s erection.

Viagra and other similar drugs can also be used to treat impotence.

Prescriptions of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs containing the active ingredient sildenafil have tripled in Britain in a decade.

Easy internet access to pornography has been linked to the growing crisis, with the theory it creates unrealistic expectations.