Erectile dysfunction is a common occurrence in men with diabetes. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, from 5% in men age 20 to 75% in men over age 65. The cause of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes is usually related to a decrease in the blood supply to the penis as well as to injury to the nerves that are responsible for the erection mechanism. A decrease in testosterone production has also been identified as the cause in some men with diabetes.
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For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.

The vascular endothelium has an important role in angiogenesis and vascular repair by producing regulatory substances, including NO, prostaglandin, endothelins, prostacyclin and angiotensin II. These regulatory factors regulate the blood flow to the penis by controlling smooth muscle contractility and subsequent vasoconstriction and vasodilatation. Generally, in erectile tissue, increased blood flow through the cavernosal artery increases shear stress and produces NO, which further relaxes the vascular smooth muscles and increases blood flow in the corpora cavernosa.54 These events cause penile erection. However, in ED, endothelial NO synthesis is reduced and there is increased endothelial cell death (Figure 2).55

Most studies into the effect of beta-blockers on ED point to negative effects of first- and second-generation beta-blockers, while beta-blockers with vasodilating effects can improve erectile function. Alpha-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors seem to have a neutral effect on erectile function. Multiple previous studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect of angiotensin receptor blockers on erectile function and they should probably be the favoured antihypertensive agents in patients with ED.29
Cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction (ED) are closely interrelated disease processes. Erectile dysfunction reportedly affects 10 million to 20 million men in the United States and more than 100 million men worldwide. Each year, about 500,000 persons in the United States survive a myocardial infarction, and an estimated 11 million have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients. We explore the relationship between ED and the presence of cardiovascular disease in the general population. We also review the prevalence and pathophysiological associations of ED and cardiovascular disease. The risks of sexual activity for patients with cardiovascular disease are discussed, as are prevention and treatment strategies for ED in this patient population.
Co-authors Stacy Mandras, M.D., Patricia Uber, Pharm. D., and Mandeep Mehra, M.D., conducted systematic independent literature searches using the MEDLINE database and examined a broad range of medical research that focused on chronic heart failure, sexual activity and sexual dysfunction. This literature included data from patient surveys and clinical trials.
"Just because there is evidence doesn't mean it's good evidence," says Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, and one of the original clinical investigators for the ED drug Viagra (sildenafil). "And before men with ED start down the naturopathic route, it's smart to make sure that there isn't some underlying medical condition that needs to be corrected." Moreover, it is estimated that 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and 70% of cases are a result of a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. Additionally, ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems.

Three FDA-approved oral medications, sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil are available. These drugs are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors that can prolong levels of cGMP in tissue allowing improved smooth muscle relaxation, thus facilitating an erection. PDE-5 inhibitor drugs are effective in 56-63% of diabetic men with ED. More stringent glycemic control can improve these results. Men with testosterone deficiency may benefit from a combination of oral ED medication and testosterone supplementation.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Of 1774 patients with a history of myocardial infarction, only 2 who had experienced a myocardial infarction after sexual intercourse were able to exercise to at least 6 METs without symptoms.8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
Penile erection is largely a vascular process, and the penile endothelium and smooth muscle tissue are very sensitive to functional and structural changes. Vasculogenic ED results from an impairment of endothelial dependent or independent smooth muscle relaxation (functional vascular ED, initial stages), occlusion of the cavernosal arteries by atherosclerosis (structural vascular ED, late stages), or a combination of these.3 Current data support a complex interplay between endothelial dysfunction, subclinical inflammation, and androgen deficiency (Figure 1). The relationship between ED and CAD at the clinical level is supported by this common pathophysiological basis. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis explains why patients with CAD frequently report ED before CAD detection.10 According to this hypothesis, for a given atherosclerotic burden, the smaller penile arteries suffer obstruction earlier than the larger coronary arteries (Figure 2). The same concept holds also true in the case of non-obstructing atherosclerosis: since the smaller penile artery have a greater endothelial surface and erection requires a large degree of vasodilation to occur when compared with arteries in other organs, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction will be symptomatic in these smaller vessels but subclinical in the larger ones (i.e. coronaries). In the same context, accelerated arterial ageing (as indicated by increased arterial stiffening that also affects large arteries of ED patients) may be a common background.11,12 Erectile dysfunction is associated with an incremental inflammatory and endothelial-pro-thrombotic activation.13 Interestingly, this activation is equal to that found in CAD patients with no ED, while when these two conditions are combined the burden is additive. Androgen deficiency may be also implicated in the common pathogenetic pathways of ED and CVD; however, this warrants further substantiation.2
There are a number of reasons a man may not achieve the desired result from an oral erectile dysfunction drug. In some cases, a man may experience drug side effects severe enough to outweigh any potential benefit of taking the drug. Possible side effects of these drugs include headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, and transient abnormal vision. (In October 2007, the FDA added a warning about sudden hearing loss to the package labels of oral erectile dysfunction drugs. While it’s not absolutely clear that the drugs can cause sudden hearing loss, a number of cases have been reported in men within hours or days of taking one of the drugs.)
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