Erectile dysfunction isn’t just about not being able to achieve an erection. Often times men can get an erection and still suffer from some of the early symptoms of erectile dysfunction. ED is more about the inability to get and maintain an erection that’s strong enough to have “satisfactory” sex. Satisfaction is the key word in that definition. And it encompasses a lot.
The natural history of ED in people with diabetes is normally gradual and does not occur overnight. Both vascular and neurological mechanisms are most commonly involved in people with diabetes. Atherosclerosis in the penile and pudendal arteries limits the blood flow into the corpus cavernosum. Because of the loss of compliance in the cavernous trabeculae, the venous flow is also lost. This loss of flow results in the inability of the corpora cavernosae to expand and compress the outflow vessels.
Most men may not openly talk about their erection problems, but erectile dysfunction — when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection well enough or long enough to have satisfying sex — is very common. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 percent of 40-year-olds and 15 to 25 percent of 65-years old have ED. But while ED is more likely to occur as a man gets older, it doesn’t come automatically with age.
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.
Erectile dysfunction is more common than most people think. About 40% of men will notice some degree of problem by age 40. The aging of the penis can begin as early as the late 20s but becomes severe enough to notice typically starting in the 40s. As men get older, their odds of getting erectile dysfunction increases by about 10% per decade, and the severity of the problem also increases.
ED can also occur among younger men. A 2013 study found that one in four men seeking their first treatment for ED were under the age of 40. The researchers found a stronger correlation between smoking and illicit drug use and ED in men under 40 than among older men. That suggests that lifestyle choices may be a main contributing factor for ED in younger men.
In many of these cases, a discussion between the physician, the man with erectile dysfunction, and possibly his partner can help to resolve the issues leading to treatment failure. For men who experience severe side effects, can’t take the drugs for other reasons (such as taking medicines such as nitroglycerin), or don’t respond in spite of further education on the correct use of the drugs, there are other treatment options that can help most men remain sexually active.
When blood sugar levels are out of control, nerve and blood vessel damage occurs throughout your body. Nerve damage breaks down the ability to turn sexual stimulation into an erection.6 Poor blood circulation reduces blood flow to the penis. Together they impact your ability to get an erection that is rigid and lasts long enough for sexual satisfaction.
Some doctors prefer to start a man on the lowest dose of an oral medicine and increase the dose until an effective one is found. Others prefer to start with the highest dose and go to a lower dose only if a man complains of side effects. In either case, it’s important for a man to communicate with his doctor to let him know how the dose he’s using is working.
Currently, placement of a penile prosthesis is the most common surgical procedure performed for erectile dysfunction. Penile prosthesis placement is typically reserved for men who have tried and failed (either from efficacy or tolerability) or have contraindications to other forms of therapy including PDE5 inhibitors, intraurethral alprostadil, and injection therapy.
As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.
Begot, I., Peixoto, T. C. A., Gonzaga, L. R. A., Bolzan, D. W., Papa, V., Carvalho, A. C. C., ... & Guizilini, S. (2015, March 1). A Home-Based Walking Program Improves Erectile Dysfunction in Men With an Acute Myocardial Infarction. The American Journal of Cardiology, 115(5), 5741-575. Retrieved from http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(14)02270-X/abstract
While these are the two most comparable datasets on this subject, there’s a problem with both of these studies, which is that they don’t tell us anything about the severity of the difficulties experienced. Having erectile “difficulty” doesn’t necessarily mean that these guys can’t get an erection at all or that they have problems every time and with every partner. Also, we don’t know whether guys who had very mild problems answered these questions consistently (e.g., if it only happened once or you didn’t think it was a big deal, would you still report it as a problem?).
Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. This problem can cause significant distress for couples. Fortunately more and more men of all ages are seeking help, and treatment for ED has advanced rapidly. The enormous demand for “anti-impotence” drugs suggests that erection problems may be more common than was previously thought. Find out more about the causes and treatment of erectile dysfunction here.
Medications used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), including diuretics and beta-blockers, may cause ED. Not all blood pressure medications are associated with ED; alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin II receptor blockers don't appear to cause ED. If you are on a blood pressure medication, have an ED talk with your doctor about whether or not your medication may be contributing to your ED and if there is an alternative blood pressure medication that is safe for you to try.
A physical exam checks your total health. Examination focusing on your genitals (penis and testicles) is often done to check for ED. Based on your age and risk factors, the exam may also focus on your heart and blood system: heart, peripheral pulses and blood pressure. Based on your age and family history your doctor may do a rectal exam to check the prostate. These tests are not painful. Most patients do not need a lot of testing before starting treatment.
Erectile dysfunction is your body’s “check engine light” because ED can be an early sign of serious health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or low testosterone. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body. So ED symptoms often occur long before more serious problems like a heart attack or stroke. When an otherwise healthy man in his 20’s experiences ED, it’s cause for concern.
Many commonly used drugs can cause erectile dysfunction. Prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs can decrease libido, interfere with normal blood flow, or even cause absent seminal emission or retrograde ejaculation. In fact, 8 of the 12 most commonly prescribed medications list ED as a side effect. Medications that commonly cause ED include:
The primary complication of the surgical implantation is postoperative infection, which occurs in about 8% of cases involving diabetes. This infection can be difficult to treat and may require the removal of the device, although this occurs <3% of the time. The infection can also cause penile erosion, reduced penile sensation, and auto-inflation. Glycemic control should be optimized several weeks before surgery. Once a patient has surgery, none of the oral agents or vacuum devices will work because of the destroyed penile architecture.
If you are taking medications (alpha-blockers) for problems with an enlarged prostate, you should discuss your prostate medications with your doctor. Alpha-blockers also can cause lowering of the blood pressure. Thus your doctor will need to carefully watch your blood pressure when you start the PDE5 inhibitor. Common alpha-blockers include doxazosin (Cardura), terazosin (Hytrin), and tamsulosin (Flomax).
Additionally, speaking to more than just the sexual issues related to erectile dysfunction, the research addresses implications related to the overall understanding of penile health. According to Arthur Burnett, M.D., a professor of urology and head of the research team, "eNOS plays roles in both immediate erectile response and the overall health and function of the penile tissue."
The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a list of 29 OTC products that claim to treat erectile dysfunction. Patients should avoid these because many contain harmful ingredients. Other natural or herbal remedies such as DHEA, L-arginine, ginseng, and yohimbe are supplements that have been used but have not been proven safe and effective according to some researchers. Before using such compounds, individuals should consult their doctor. According to some experts, acupuncture does not effectively treat erectile dysfunction. Other home remedies for reducing ED symptoms include diet changes such as eating blueberries and citrus fruits and drinking red wine.
The relationship between ED and couple relation impairment is well documented. In our population of subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, subjects reporting conflicts within the couple were characterized by a broad spectrum of sexual symptoms, including a severe extent of ED, and they had a higher SIEDY Scale 2 score, indicating a strong relational component in the pathogenesis of ED (88). If on one hand, it is easy to understand that problems in couple relationship can cause ED, the other way around is also feasible. In the Female Experience of Men’s Attitudes to Life Events and Sexuality (FEMALES) study, 292 female partners of men aged more than 20 years complaining for ED were involved in a survey assessing the quality of their sexual experience (89). In this study, women reported a significant deterioration of satisfaction for sexual intercourse after the onset of ED in their partners. The satisfaction, sexual desire, arousal and orgasm were then improved in women whose partner used PDE5i (89). The role of ED as a risk factor for female dysfunction, including impairment in arousal, orgasm, sexual satisfaction and sexual pain, has been also confirmed in a study involving 632 sexually active couples, whose male partner age ranged 18–80 years (90).
Once evaluated, there are a number of treatments for erectile dysfunction, varying from oral therapies that can be taken on demand (for example, sildenafil [Viagra, Revatio], vardenafil [Levitra, Staxyn], avanafil [Stendra], and tadalafil [Cialis, Adcirca]) or once daily (tadalafil), intraurethral therapies (alprostadil [Muse]), injection therapies (alprostadil, combination therapies), the vacuum device, and penile prostheses. Less commonly, arterial revascularization procedures can be performed. It is important to discuss the indications and risks of each of these therapies to determine which is best for you.
Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED.
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.