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.
To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.

Ageing is one of the most important unmodifiable risk factors for the development of metabolic disorders and CV diseases. Accordingly, the common algorithms for the estimation of risk of forthcoming diabetes or CV events include age as a factor of the equations (24-29). The weight attributed to age for estimating the risk in these equations is often so significant that younger men are automatically considered at low risk, irrespective of the other possible risk factors. However, even in younger subjects, overlooking the contribution of cardio-metabolic factors to pathogenesis of ED is a mistake that can lead to the loss of the opportunity of early recognition of patients who deserve a change in life-style or a pharmacological correction of risk factors. ED, besides being considered one of the clinical manifestations of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases (CVD), is regarded as an early marker of CV events (17). In fact, according to Montorsi’s hypothesis (30), impairment of penile artery blood flow occurs before that of coronary or carotid arteries, whose diameter is greater and needs longer time to acquire a clinically relevant damage. The clinical consequence of this pathological event is that ED often manifests earlier than myocardial infarction or stroke. In particular, it has been demonstrated that ED occurs on average three years before the first major adverse CV event (MACE) (31). Quite surprisingly, although CV risk increases with ageing, the role of ED as a harbinger of forthcoming MACE becomes progressively less evident. Data derived from almost 2,500 community-dwelling men aged 40–79 years, involved in the Olmsted County study show that ED is associated with an almost 50-fold higher risk of incident heart diseases in men aged 40–49 years, whereas the difference in risk between ED and non-ED men progressively declines in older men (32). The different CV risk associated with ED in different age bands has been confirmed by the meta-analysis of the available longitudinal studies (33). These observations suggest that, in younger men, the role of ED as a marker of CV risk is even more dramatic than in older ones and as a consequence, investigating the presence of metabolic or CV conditions in younger ED patients is pivotal for identifying men in whom an early life-style modification may avoid serious CV consequences. Even more than erection during sexual intercourse, erection during masturbation is considered a physiologic function that mirrors metabolic and CV health. In fact, erections during masturbation are far less affected by relational and psychological components than sex-related ones (34). In a population of subjects attending the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for sexual dysfunction, more than 2,500 men reported autoeroticism in the previous 3 months. Among these men, the impairment of erection during masturbation was associated with family and personal history of CVD (35), as well as with impaired response to the test with the intracavernous injection (ICI) of prostaglandin E1, which suggests an arteriogenic damage of penile arteries and predicts forthcoming MACE (36). For a subset of these men (n=862), information on the occurrence of MACE during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years was available and those who reported impaired erections during masturbation had a significantly higher incidence of MACE (35). However, when considering separately younger and older men, this association was confirmed only in younger ones, and it was still significant after excluding men reporting severe ED during masturbation (35). This suggests that the impairment of erection during masturbation is a symptom not completely overlapping with sex-related ED and that it can provide different and supplementary information, in particular when assessed in younger and apparently healthy men. Similarly to what is observed for erection during masturbation, acceleration of blood in penile arteries, as measured by the colour Doppler ultrasound in flaccid conditions, is associated with an adverse CV profile in men consulting for ED. A reduction in flaccid acceleration, which can be used by clinicians to objectively verify the arteriogenic origin of ED and to characterize the extent of a self-reported symptom, has been also associated with a future risk of CV events, with the association being significant in younger but not in older men (37).


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.
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.
In some cases, however, these drugs may be unsuitable for patients with heart disease. If you are considering one of these drugs and you have heart disease, as many diabetics do, be sure to tell your doctor. In rare cases, the pills may create “priapism,” a prolonged and painful erection lasting six hours or more (although reversible with prompt medical attention).
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