In particular, patients are classified into three categories (low, intermediate, high) depending on their CV risk profile. Individuals with controlled hypertension belong to the low-risk group where sexual dysfunction can be safely managed with the approved medical therapies regardless of the number or class (with the exception of b-blockers and diuretics) of agents of the patient’s antihypertensive regime. Moreover, patients of this group can safely initiate or reinstitute sexual activity without any need for additional cardiovascular evaluation.
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.
Whereas lifestyle modification is a reasonable initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with sexual dysfunction, finding the appropriate antihypertensive treatment is usually the next “complicated” move to care for. Several observational and clinical studieshave consistently associated antihypertensive medication with sexual dysfunction[20]. Whether one class of antihypertensive agents is associated exclusively or more with erectile dysfunction compared to another, however, is a difficult puzzle to solve as there are many other factors (comorbid conditions, concomitant medications, personal characteristics) to be taken into account at the same time. In addition, erectile dysfunction has never been studied as the primary end-point before and as a result a definite causative relationship between antihypertensive medication and sexual dysfunction has never been proven.
Because ED has several causes, sorting out exactly what is causing your problem may take some time. First, make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are using, including over-the-counter or herbal products. Drugs frequently used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and peptic ulcers can all cause ED. But don’t stop taking any of your medications without first talking to your doctor.
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Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F
Many products contain undocumented “fillers” that can cause allergic reactions.  In recent years, the FDA has found over 300 herbal products that contain hidden, deceptively labeled, or dangerous ingredients4. And since 2015, the FDA has released public warnings on more than 160 ED supplements and “male enhancement” products found to contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants5 .   An independent study of FDA data, conducted in 2018, found almost 800 herbal supplements that contained unlisted ingredients6.
The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.
In most men, ED is recognised as sharing vascular aetiology with IHD.17 ED and IHD share common risk factors, such as hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, obesity, lack of physical exercise, cigarette smoking, poor diet, excess alcohol consumption and psychological stress, including depression.30 Endothelial dysfunction has been implicated as a common mechanism between CAD and ED and it has an important role in the development of atherosclerosis.31
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (1) | Google ScholarSee all References Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors also have low rates of secondary ED associated with their use in both animal and human studies.45x45Srilatha, B, Adaikan, PG, Arulkumaran, S, and Ng, SC. Sexual dysfunction related to antihypertensive agents: results from the animal model. Int J Impot Res. 1999; 11: 107–113
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (164) | Google ScholarSee all References Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown vardenafil to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to a wide range of other etiologies as well.71x71Hellstrom, WJ, Gittelman, M, Karlin, G..., and Vardenafil Study Group. Sustained efficacy and tolerability of vardenafil, a highly potent selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in men with erectile dysfunction: results of a randomized, double-blind, 26-week placebo-controlled pivotal trial. Urology. 2003; 61: 8–14
Another oral treatment that has been used with very little success is yohimbine (Yocon, Yohimex). This is an alpha 2 adrenergic receptor blocker that increases cholinergic and decreases adrenergic tone. It stimulates the mid-brain and increases libido. Optimal results occur when used in men with psychogenic ED. Side effects include anxiety and insomnia.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Possible etiologies for ED secondary to hypertension include vascular damage due to hypertensive changes as well as hormonal abnormalities such as elevated prolactin levels.30x30Jaffe, A, Chen, Y, Kisch, ES, Fischel, B, Alon, M, and Stern, N. Erectile dysfunction in hypertensive subjects: assessment of potential determinants. Hypertension. 1996; 28: 859–862
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277
27. Haahr MK, Jensen CH, Toyserkani NM, et al. Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine 2016;5:204-10. 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.01.024 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef]
Intracavernosal and intraurethral injections are second-line therapy for patients with ED. Alprostadil is the agent most commonly used for intracavernosal injections. The main adverse effects of intracavernosal injections are painful erection, priapism and development of scarring at the injection site.73 Alprostadil is also available as a topical cream in patients who cannot tolerate injections.75
Whereas lifestyle modification is a reasonable initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with sexual dysfunction, finding the appropriate antihypertensive treatment is usually the next “complicated” move to care for. Several observational and clinical studieshave consistently associated antihypertensive medication with sexual dysfunction[20]. Whether one class of antihypertensive agents is associated exclusively or more with erectile dysfunction compared to another, however, is a difficult puzzle to solve as there are many other factors (comorbid conditions, concomitant medications, personal characteristics) to be taken into account at the same time. In addition, erectile dysfunction has never been studied as the primary end-point before and as a result a definite causative relationship between antihypertensive medication and sexual dysfunction has never been proven.
Relaxation of erectile tissue requires nitric oxide from nonadrenergic-noncholinergic neurons and the endothelium.21 Penile tissue from diabetic men with ED demonstrates impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of smooth muscle,22 increased accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs),23 and upregulation arginase, a competitor with nitric oxide synthase for its substrate L-arginine.24 Normal responses to direct smooth muscle relaxants in most of these studies implies that the impairments are due to decreased synthesis, release, or activity of nitric oxide. The fundamental mechanisms mediating these changes are thought to be the same as for other diabetic complications: increased polyol pathway flux, intracellular accumulation of AGEs, activation of protein kinase C, and increased flux through the hexosamine pathway.25
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References A dose-related phenomenon with propranolol use was suggested by another study, which showed that patients receiving propranolol dosages exceeding 120 mg/d developed ED at a higher rate than patients who received lower dosages of the same medication.43x43Warren, SC and Warren, SG. Propranolol and sexual impotence [letter]. Ann Intern Med. 1977; 86: 112

When it comes to scientific development, in Western medicine, an analytic approach is often used to identify and resolve medical challenges. A hypothesis is first derived through general observations of a phenomenon. A research plan is then carefully designed and data collected. Once sufficient data is collected, critical statistical evaluations are done and conclusions are drawn (4). Every aspects of a disease entity are studied from macroscopic to microscopic views, down to the cellular and molecular levels. The deep understanding of the role of cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type 5 enzymes in ED and the use of phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors in treatment of ED exemplifies the success of this approach.
An equally valuable observation though, is the fact that sexual dysfunction could indeed indicate asymptomatic CV disease. A solid amount of evidence accumulated over the last years has pointed out towards that trend moving, hesitatingly though, sexual dysfunction in the surface of scientific interest. As such, commonly under-reported, under-recognized and under-treated, sexual dysfunction could indeed play its role in cardiovascular risk assessment and stratification.
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Neurological (nerve and brain) diseases: The nervous system plays a vital part in achieving and maintaining an erection. It is common for men with conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries to experience ED. This is due to an interruption in the transmission of nerve impulses between the brain and the penis.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References A dose-related phenomenon with propranolol use was suggested by another study, which showed that patients receiving propranolol dosages exceeding 120 mg/d developed ED at a higher rate than patients who received lower dosages of the same medication.43x43Warren, SC and Warren, SG. Propranolol and sexual impotence [letter]. Ann Intern Med. 1977; 86: 112
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Additionally, the presence of nephropathy has been correlated with onset of ED, as has the length of time the patient has had diabetes; most of these patients experience ED within 10 years of being diagnosed as having insulin-dependent or non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
The discovery in 1992 of the second messenger of cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation was the critical step that led to the era of nonhormonal oral drug therapy for ED. In 1998, the multicenter trial of sildenafil in the treatment of ED was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the era of the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitor began.1 For 5 years, sildenafil was the primary therapy for men with EDDM. Recently, 2 new PDE-5 inhibitors, vardenafil and tadalafil, were introduced.
Currently, the preferred treatment for erectile dysfunction includes sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis). However, numerous experts have raised concerns about the use of these drugs in patients with chronic heart failure who also take nitrates (or other medications that relax and widen blood vessels). This drug combination has been shown to be dangerous, because it can increase the risk for a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.
If the cause is believed to be organic but not hormonal, or if the patient defers psychological intervention, he can be offered the VCD or oral drug therapy. EDDM patients on organic nitrates or who have experienced or are concerned about potential adverse reaction to PDE-5 inhibitors are suitable candidates for the VCD. The VCD induces functional rigidity in 75% of patients with diabetes with autonomic neuropathy. Some patients or their partners may reject or discontinue the use of the VCD because it induces an unnatural erection, causes bruising and numbness of the penis, and or inhibits antegrade ejaculation.8
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, sildenafil was effective in patients with diabetes mellitus.58x58Rendell, MS, Rajfer, J, Wicker, PA, Smith, MD, and Sildenafil Diabetes Study Group. Sildenafil for treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1999; 281: 421–426
The second way relates to the risk associated with the sexual activity in a patient with either overt or occult CVD. In this case, the diagnosis of ED should prompt an initial cardiovascular assessment based on the history and clinical examination in order to define the baseline risk according to (i) the likelihood of silent CAD18,31 (especially since ED patients have a high probability to have silent CAD) or to the stage of clinically evident CAD, (ii) other cardiovascular conditions either unrelated, or related to ED (e.g. heart failure, peripheral arterial disease).
Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.
A collection of risk factors that strongly predict heart disease—termed the metabolic syndrome—is also associated with erectile dysfunction. An increasingly prevalent condition, this syndrome includes low HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood sugar, and heightened inflammation and causes a three-fold or greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is largely attributable to excess weight, poor diet, and inactivity and afflicts at least 47 million Americans, signaling that an epidemic of erectile dysfunction is sure to follow. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 men participating in a health screening revealed that metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by 48%.10
Yohimbine: The main component of an African tree bark, yohimbine is probably one of the most problematic of all natural remedies for ED. Some research suggests that yohimbine can improve a type of sexual dysfunction that is linked with a drug used to treat depression. However, studies have linked yohimbine to a number of side effects, which can include anxiety, increased blood pressure, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. Like all natural remedies, yohimbine should only be used after advice and under supervision from a doctor.
Recent revised labeling for sildenafil states that there is a lack of controlled data for its use in patients with resting hypotension (<90/50 mm Hg) or hypertension (>170/110 mm Hg); a history of myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the past 6 months; coronary artery disease or cardiac failure causing unstable angina; or retinitis pigmentosa and possible genetic disorders of retinal PDEs.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Figure. Progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction occurs early in atherosclerosis and prevents blood vessels from dilating properly. When the blood vessels that supply the penis are not able to dilate during sexual stimulation because of endothelial dysfunction, the penis cannot fill with blood, and the man develops erectile dysfunction. As atherosclerosis progresses, plaques build up in blood vessels and blood flow is slowed, further worsening erectile function. A heart attack occurs when an atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, a blood clot forms over the plaque, and blood flow to the heart muscle is completely blocked. Atherosclerotic risk factors (black arrows) worsen cardiovascular health; modification of these risk factors (red arrows) improves cardiovascular health.

Mancia G,  Laurent S,  Agabiti-Rosei E,  Ambrosioni E,  Burnier M,  Caulfield MJ,  Cifkova R,  Clément D,  Coca A,  Dominiczak A,  Erdine S,  Fagard R,  Farsang C,  Grassi G,  Haller H,  Heagerty A,  Kjeldsen SE,  Kiowski W,  Mallion JM,  Manolis A,  Narkiewicz K,  Nilsson P,  Olsen MH,  Rahn KH,  Redon J,  Rodicio J,  Ruilope L,  Schmieder RE,  Struijker-Boudier HA,  van Zwieten PA,  Viigimaa M,  Zanchetti A. European Society of HypertensionReappraisal of European guidelines on hypertension management: a European Society of Hypertension Task Force document, J Hypertens , 2009, vol. 27 (pg. 2121-2158)https://doi.org/10.1097/HJH.0b013e328333146d
With atherosclerosis, the blood vessels are not able to dilate properly, which is called endothelial dysfunction (see the Figure). Cholesterol builds up in the blood vessel walls and forms plaques, which make the vessels narrow and slow down blood flow. When a plaque becomes very advanced, it can completely stop blood from passing through, which is what happens in a heart attack. Atherosclerosis affects not only the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries), but also blood vessels throughout the entire body. Atherosclerosis causes angina (chest pain that is often exertional), heart attacks, strokes, claudication (pain in the legs with walking), and ED. Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years. This warning sign can be a good thing if it alerts you and your doctor that you have atherosclerosis, because then you can take steps to treat the atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack or stroke.

In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is found predominantly in the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa but can be found in smaller quantities in platelets and other vascular smooth muscle.56x56Wallis, RM, Corbin, JD, Francis, SH, and Ellis, P. Tissue distribution of phosphodiesterase families and the effects of sildenafil on tissue cyclic nucleotides, platelet function, and the contractile responses of trabeculae carneae and aortic rings in vitro. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 3C–12C
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
Inflatable prostheses are complex mechanical devices that imitate the natural process of erection. Parts are inserted surgically into the penis and scrotum, and activated by squeezing. When erection is no longer desired, a valve on the pump is pressed, and the penis becomes flaccid. Self-contained single-unit prostheses are similar to the inflatable types, but more compact. The entire device is implanted into the penis. When erection is desired, the unit is activated by either squeezing or bending, depending on which of the two types of self-contained prostheses is used.
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