Current American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines quote an absolute contraindication to sildenafil use in the setting of chronic nitrate treatment or the use of short-acting nitrate medications.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Sexual problems might mean you have a broken heart, literally. The most common sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED affects up to 30 million men in the United States. Surprisingly, ED might be a sign of heart problems. It is important to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Not only can your doctor prescribe medications to improve sexual function, but together you may be able to prevent a major heart problem like a heart attack. This article outlines the steps that you should take if you think you have ED.

The initial event for normal erectile function is sexual stimulation. Subsequent to processing in the central nervous system neural impulses are conveyed along the spinal cord, exiting through the pelvic parasympathetic preganglionic nerves. These pelvic nerves form the pelvic plexus and send their message through first messenger, acetyl choline, to the cavernosal nerves. The cavernosal nerves enter erectile bodies (corpora cavernosa) (Figure 1). Here, their nerve endings release a second messenger, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide activates the enzyme guanylyl cyclase, which lyses guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to produce a third messenger, the intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Ultimately, the result is a decrease of intracellular calcium and an opening of potassium channels with the resultant relaxation of vascular smooth muscle in the arteries, aterioles, and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa. The sinusoids open and rapidly fill with blood. Finally, the distended sinusoids compress their drainage pathways (venules) against the fibroelastic covering of the cavernosal bodies (tunica albuginea) and trap the blood in cavernosal bodies. The combination of an increased inflow of blood into the penis and coincident markedly diminished outflow results in rapidly increasing intracavernosal pressure that ultimately approximates systolic pressure. At this pressure the penis has sufficient axial rigidity to permit vaginal penetration.
These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
There are few data specifically relating to the effectiveness of vacuum erection devices (VEDs) in diabetic men with ED. In a single-center study of 44 men with diabetes who choose VED for the treatment of ED in the early 1990s, 75% reported that they were able to achieve erections satisfactory for intercourse with the use of the device.51 However, the manner in which patients were accrued to this study probably biased its findings, resulting in substantially higher effectiveness rates than are normally observed in clinical practice. A recent review of the use of VEDs in the general treatment of ED notes that satisfaction rates with this therapy are much lower, varying between 20 and 50%.52
"The answer to the question, 'Can patients with heart disease safely have sex?' is almost always 'Yes,' unless they have such bad heart failure or severe artery disease that even a moderate amount of exertion will cause terrible chest pain," says Richard Stein, MD, who is director of preventive cardiology at New York City's Beth Israel Hospital. "And if that is the case, sex is probably the last thing on their minds anyway."
Erectile dysfunction is frequent in patients with established CAD with prevalence rates ranging between 47 and 75% in studies.2,4,14 The AssoCiatiOn Between eRectile dysfunction and coronary Artery disease (COBRA) trial tested the hypothesis that the ED rate differs in CAD patients according to the clinical presentation (acute vs. chronic coronary syndromes) and the extent of vessel involvement (one vs. two to three vessel disease)15 (Figure 3). The overall ED prevalence in CAD patients was 47%, whereas in the normal coronary angiography group the ED rate was 24%. When separately considered, the ED rate was 22% in patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and one-vessel disease and 55 and 65% in patients with ACS and multi-vessel disease and with chronic coronary syndrome, respectively. The study also showed that both severity (IIEF <10) and duration (>24 months) of ED were predictive of severe coronary involvement at angiography. This study offers pathophysiological and mechanistic explanations related to the clinical setting. In patients with multi-vessel disease, regardless of the clinical presentation, the advanced coronary and systemic atherosclerosis is the reason for the high rate of ED. However, in the setting of acute myocardial infarction with one-vessel disease, ED is far less frequent because the atherosclerotic burden is modest (i.e. abrupt occlusion of a single non-obstructing plaque in the absence of extensive atherosclerosis) in both the coronary and penile circulations.15,16

Erections are extremely complicated and surprisingly fragile. Erections involve chemical signals, nerve impulses, complicated blood pressure changes, and overall fitness in systems ranging from your heart and hormones to your mood. When medication changes how one of these factors works—like blood pressure drops or depression medication—ED is a common side effect. The problem with these completely predictable medically induced side effects is how people react.


Gazzaruso C,  Solerte SB,  Pujia A,  Coppola A,  Vezzoli M,  Salvucci F,  Valenti C,  Giustina A,  Garzaniti A. Erectile dysfunction as a predictor of cardiovascular events and death in diabetic patients with angiographically proven asymptomatic coronary artery disease: a potential protective role for statins and 5-phosphodiesterase inhibitors, J Am Coll Cardiol , 2008, vol. 51 (pg. 2040-2044)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2007.10.069
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
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or have already had a heart attack and are experiencing erectile dysfunction, it is critical that you discuss erectile dysfunction medication with your physician before considering taking it. Popular erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil) can interact with a range of cardiovascular disease medications. Interactions are possible with blood pressure medications; blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), nitrates for the treatment of chest pain, and antiarrhythmia medication for the treatment of irregular heart rhythms.
A number of drugs are known to cause ED in patients with DM (Table 1). For example, many EDDM patients are on antihypertensive medications. Replacement of thiazides or beta-blockers with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers may be sufficient to regain erectile ability.5 Furthermore, discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, if these drugs are not essential for patient well-being, may be therapeutic. Careful monitoring following drug discontinuation will help to determine if ED is due to the medication or other underlying disorders. The benefits of continued drug therapy with these drugs should always be weighed against the likelihood of causing ED and impacting on the patient's QOL.
The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.

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
Sexual dysfunction has been evaluated in ancient literature of TCM in terms of subjective sensation and the actual sexual performance (3). In TCM, methods and matters related to direct sexual activity is described in terms of “ten motions”, “seven impairments” and “eight benefits”, which asserted that the ideal intensity and frequency of sexual activity should be moderate. TCM is all about balance, to achieve better overall regulation of the yin and the yang. The aim of treatment of ED using TCM is not for the end point of a penile erection but rather for a natural and harmonious sex life. TCM aims to achieve regulation in terms of the man’s anxiety, fatigability, changing hormonal levels, insomnia and gastroparesis. Medicine to invigorate qi can enhance physical fitness, and medicine to warm the kidneys can regulate sex hormones, increase libido, invigorate the spleen, regulate the stomach and improve general well-being (3). Medications used to treat a “stagnated liver” provide tranquilization and helps to stabilize the mind, hence improving mental processes and emotional wellness. As a result, the patient’s overall condition and quality of life is improved.
Surgery for erectile dysfunction is usually considered only after all other options have failed. The two surgical options include the insertion of a semi-rigid rod or the implantation of a three-piece inflatable prosthesis. Penile prosthesis implantation has low infection, complication, and malfunction rates. However, since placement of an implant requires permanent injury to the erectile tissue of the penis, implant treatment is considered irreversible.
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