• Blood Vessels: Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially the smallest blood vessels such as those in the penis. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and other circulatory problems. Proper blood flow is absolutely crucial to achieving erection. “Erection is a hydraulic phenomenon that occurs involuntarily,” says Arturo Rolla, MD, of Harvard University School of Medicine. “Nobody can will an erection!” Anything that limits or impairs blood flow can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection, no matter how strong one’s sexual desire.
A little wine every day or two is good for your heart, and that’s good for your sexual function. Men who drink moderately, one or two drinks a day, are actually at lower risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED) than men who don’t drink at all. But if a little is good, too much is clearly bad. Drinking too much alcohol at one time can interfere with sexual performance, as many a college student has found to his dismay. Drinking too much alcohol over months and years can do something far worse. It can cause ED.
Sexuality and erection are controlled by multiple areas of the human brain including the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. Stimulatory or inhibitory messages are relayed to the spinal erection centers to facilitate or inhibit erection (5). Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the inhibition of erection in psychogenic dysfunction: direct inhibition of the spinal erection center by the brain as an exaggeration of the normal suprasacral inhibition and excessive sympathetic outflow or elevated peripheral catecholamine levels, which may increase penile smooth muscle tone and prevent the relaxation necessary for erection (8). Animal studies demonstrate that the stimulation of sympathetic nerves or systemic infusion of epinephrine causes detumescence of the erect penis (6,7). Clinically, higher levels of serum norepinephrine have been reported in patients with psychogenic ED than in normal controls or patients with vasculogenic ED (9).
It’s important to make mention that ED can be associated with stress, hormones, emotional well-being, the nervous system, muscle tone, circulation, medications, and more. While there may be a simple explanation for the inability to maintain an erection, sexual arousal is a complex function of the body, so it’s in your best interest to consult with your doctor if you’re regularly having trouble sustaining an erection and having pleasurable sex.

When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.

Diabetes can cause nerve, blood vessel, and muscle damage that results in problems like pain, numbing or loss of sensation in the hands and feet.12 These issues can also result in ED problems, because nerve signals and blood flow are necessary to the process of getting an erection.6 And as men with diabetes get older, ED problems become even more common.13

Research is mixed on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an erectile dysfunction cure, but one study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Describing the epidemiology of ED in young men requires, first of all, defining what it is meant by youth. While the definition of old age is matter of discussion and a precise threshold does not exist, the most shared definition in Western Countries is age above 65 years (http://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/ageingdefnolder/en/). Considering that most of the epidemiological studies on general populations aimed at studying health changes with age, enrol men more than 40 years, it seems reasonable to define young age as below 40 years. Epidemiological studies on erectile function, which considered the prevalence of ED according to age bands, consistently find a significant increase with ageing. Advancing age remains one of the most important unmodifiable risk factors for ED (1). Studies on ED mostly involve middle-aged and older men, with younger aged men often overlooked. In a multi-centre worldwide study, involving more than 27,000 men from eight countries, Rosen et al. (2) showed an ED prevalence of 8% among men aged 20–29 years and 11% among those aged 30–39 years. Most of the studies involving younger men and conducting age-stratified analyses have been performed in Europe, where the prevalence of ED in men younger than 40 years ranges between 1% to 10% (3-10). The prevalence reported in these studies is highly variable due to different methodologies used in defining ED, population accrual, acquisition of data and choice of tools for investigating erectile function. A smaller number of studies on this topic have been conducted outside Europe. Both in Australia (11,12) and in America (13-15), the available information suggests a similar range of prevalence of ED among young subjects, with the same extent of variability among studies. According to these data, ED in younger men, although still not extensively studied and largely overlooked by the scientific community, is a quite common condition. In a recent study conducted in a Urology Clinic, it has been observed that one out of four men seeking medical care for ED was younger than 40 years (16). In our Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit, established in an Endocrinology setting at the University of Florence, medical consultations for younger men are infrequent, with a prevalence of men aged less than 40 years at only 14.1% of more than 3,000 men complaining of ED. However, when considering the new referrals to our Unit during the last 6 years, we can notice a progressive increase in prevalence of men below 40 years seeking medical care for ED (Figure 1). According to these data, ED is becoming a common concern even among young men, and the clinical practitioner in sexual medicine must become aware of how to manage the problem and avoid underestimating a symptom. The identification of ED in a young man may potentially provide a great deal of useful information that can help improve their quality and even length of life.
Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
Counselling or sex therapy (58% of people find this works for them) –mind-related causes of erectile dysfunction can affect anyone. They are more likely if you experience erectile dysfunction at a younger age. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help some people overcome erectile dysfunction related to these problems, possibly for good. They can also help you if your erectile dysfunction is causing you stress, as this can make matters worse.
Association between severity of erectile dysfunction and SIEDY Scale 1, Scale 2 and Scale 3 (organic, relational and intrapsychic pathogenetic components of erectile dysfunction, respectively). Data are derived from a population of 1,873 men aged 18–44 years, representing the first tertile of age in a population of patients consulting the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for erectile dysfunction. Data are adjusted for age, smoking habits, alcohol intake and education. Erectile dysfunction is defined according to a previously validated definition (21) using the sum of the scores obtained from question 1A (Do you have full erection sufficient for penetration? Rating 0= always, 1= often, 2= quite often and 3= sometimes) and question 2 (Does it occur to have a normal erection which you are not able to maintain? Rating 0= sometimes, 1= quite often, 2= often, and 3= always) of SIEDY, which reproduce the definition of erectile dysfunction as “The persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection adequate for satisfactory sexual activity” (1). SIEDY, Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction.
Some men should not take PDE5 inhibitors. They can cause hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure that can lead to fainting and even shock) when given to patients who are taking nitrates (medications taken for heart disease). Therefore, patients taking nitrates daily should not take any of the PDE5 inhibitors. Nitrates relieve angina (chest pain due to insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle because of narrowing of the coronary arteries); these include nitroglycerine tablets, patches, ointments, sprays, and pastes, as well as isosorbide dinitrate and isosorbide mononitrate. Other nitrates such as amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate also are in some recreational drugs called "poppers."

Fully restoring sexual health with treatment of a medical condition (such as high blood pressure with diet and/or exercise or by controlling diabetes or other chronic diseases) may not be possible. Identification and treatment of these conditions may prevent the progression of ED and affect the success of various ED therapies. Nutritional states, including malnutrition, obesity, and zinc deficiency, may be associated with erectile dysfunction, and dietary changes may prove a sufficient treatment. Masturbation and excessive masturbation are not felt to cause ED, however, if one notes weak erections with masturbation, this may be a sign of ED. Some men who masturbate frequently may have troubles with achieving the same degree of stimulation from their partner, but this is not ED.

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.


Acupuncture may help treat psychological ED, though studies are limited and inconclusive. You’ll likely need several appointments before you begin to notice any improvements. When choosing an acupuncturist, look for a certified practitioner who uses disposable needles and follows U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for needle disposal and sterilization.
Counselling or sex therapy (58% of people find this works for them) –mind-related causes of erectile dysfunction can affect anyone. They are more likely if you experience erectile dysfunction at a younger age. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help some people overcome erectile dysfunction related to these problems, possibly for good. They can also help you if your erectile dysfunction is causing you stress, as this can make matters worse.

Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: This class of medications includes sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. They work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), allowing more blood to enter the penis and helping to produce an erection. These medications are often taken before sex and will cause an erection only when the man is sexually stimulated.


Acupuncture may help treat psychological ED, though studies are limited and inconclusive. You’ll likely need several appointments before you begin to notice any improvements. When choosing an acupuncturist, look for a certified practitioner who uses disposable needles and follows U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for needle disposal and sterilization.

In most young men with ED, additional testing to assess for the origin of ED is unnecessary as the history gives you the information that you need. With this said, it may be therapeutic for the patient to know his laboratory assessments are normal, in which case additional testing does add significant value to the assessment. From the history alone, we find that most of these men will have situational erectile dysfunction that responds well to low dose oral PDE-5 inhibitors. If the patient does respond well to these medications, the diagnosis of neurogenic erectile dysfunction, clinically significant arterial insufficiency, or venous-occlusive dysfunction can efficiently be ruled out. If the patient responds inconsistently or does not respond to the oral medications, additional workup should be considered, dependent on the additional history provided.
Neurologic illnesses leading to ED have been recently reviewed (64). The most common of them (i.e., consequences of prostatic surgery, stroke and Parkinson’s disease) are not typical of younger age and, similarly to conditions less common but more typical of younger men, such as spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and spina bifida, the clinical features of the underlying disease are clearly apparent, being ED one of the multiple manifestations, rather than a harbinger of a subtle condition. Diagnosis of neurologic origin of ED is often quite simple, based on medical history and physical exam. The clinical management is a multidimensional and coordinated work of rehabilitation and medical therapy, which includes ICI injection of vaso-relaxant drugs, vacuum device and surgery (64).
In the evaluation of physical causes of ED, the health care provider is assessing for conditions that may affect the nerves, arteries, veins, and functional anatomy of the penis (for example, the tunica albuginea, the tissue surround the corpora). In determining a physical (or organic) cause, your health care provider will first rule out certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart and vascular disease, low male hormone level, prostate cancer, and diabetes, which are associated with erectile dysfunction. Medical/surgical treatment of these conditions may also cause ED. In addition to these health conditions, certain systemic digestive (gastrointestinal) and respiratory diseases are known to result in erectile dysfunction:
With coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can limit the amount of blood that’s able to flow through them. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by this hardening of the arteries, the result can be angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.17 Because the arteries that supply blood to the penis are much smaller than the ones that feed the heart, the problem may show up earlier as having difficulty getting an erection.18
Infection is a concern after placement of a prosthesis and is a reported complication in 8%-20% of men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis. If a prosthesis becomes infected (redness, pain, and swelling of the penis and sometimes purulent drainage are signs of infection), the prosthesis must be removed. Depending on the timing and severity of the infection and your surgeon's preference, the area can be irrigated extensively with antibiotic solutions and a new prosthesis placed at the same time or removal of the infected prosthesis and an attempt to place a new prosthesis made at a later time when the infection is totally cleared.

Cardiovascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of erectile dysfunction in men older than 50 years. Cardiovascular causes include those that affect arteries and veins. Damage to arteries that bring blood flow into the penis may occur from hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or trauma to the pelvis/perineum (for example, pelvic fracture, long-distance bicycle riding).
If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
The article, "Inactivation of phosphorylated endothelial nitric oxide synthase (Ser-1177) by O-GlcNAc in diabetes-associated erectile dysfunction," appears in the Aug. 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was published online Aug. 5.  Melissa F. Kramer and Robyn E. Becker, also of the Brady Urological Institute, collaborated on this study.

The study, led by the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford, looked at data on more than 220,000 men across three cohorts, 6,000 of whom experienced erectile dysfunction. The research echoed recent findings that erectile dysfunction has a genetic cause, and goes further by opening the possibility that living a healthier lifestyle may help reduce risk.
It’s important to make mention that ED can be associated with stress, hormones, emotional well-being, the nervous system, muscle tone, circulation, medications, and more. While there may be a simple explanation for the inability to maintain an erection, sexual arousal is a complex function of the body, so it’s in your best interest to consult with your doctor if you’re regularly having trouble sustaining an erection and having pleasurable sex.
Additional information to obtain includes a psychosocial and cultural history to assess past and present relationships, emotional or professional stressors, current and previous psychological/behavioral diagnoses and treatments, educational level and employment status, and location of domicile. A methodical medical history should be obtained to identify medical conditions that might be contributing to the patient’s ED. A thorough physical examination should be performed on all new patients with emphasis on the cardiovascular, genital, endocrine, and neurologic systems. On physical examination in a man with hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle, the penis may initially be contracted and tender to palpation. As the exam proceeds and the patient becomes less anxious, the penile tissue will often noticeably relax.
Pelvic exercises, commonly known as Kegel exercises, were first described in 1948 by American gynaecologist Arnold Kegel. They are usually advocated by doctors to women after they have delivered a baby, and are not something most men are aware of. But Kegels help promote urinary continence and sexual health because they strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, pumps during ejaculation, and helps empty the urethra after urination.
The bad news: Men with diabetes are three times more likely to report having problems with sex than non-diabetic men. The most common sexual problem is Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, sometimes called impotence. Even worse, because ED is such a private issue, many men feel embarrassed to discuss the problem with their doctor, or even their partner, so the problem is never addressed.
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