As a primary care doctor, my most important job is to tailor treatment for my patients while still making decisions based on the medical literature. So when patients tell me their treatment is causing undesired side effects—like ED—I work with them to create a plan to treat the condition while also finding a way to relieve those side effects. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with medically induced ED.
Some commonly prescribed cardiovascular drugs (beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, etc.) contribute to ED.18 Previous studies have shown a strong association between ED and diuretics in patients treated with hydrochlorothiazide or chlorthalidone.19,20 It has also been shown that patients treated with first-generation non-selective beta-blockers, such as propranolol, had more frequent ED than those treated with a placebo.21

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References During a 9-year follow-up study of 513 of these men who had no ED at the first study, the risk of new-onset ED was analyzed.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Unlike sildenafil, vardenafil has been associated with a slight prolongation of the QT interval and thus should not be used by patients with a congenital QT prolongation or by any patient currently taking antiarrhythmic medications.67x67Vardenafil (levitra) for erectile dysfunction. Med Lett Drugs Ther. 2003; 45: 77–78
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual problem affecting many men irrespective of cultures, beliefs and nationalities. While medical therapy for ED has been revolutionized by the advent of oral phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors and intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents, recent technological advances such stem cell therapy, low intensity shock wave and newer generation of penile prosthesis implant offer hope to men who do not respond to conventional medical therapy. In contrast, traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) focuses on the restoration and better overall bodily regulation with the use of various herbal and animal products as well as exercises to invigorate qi (energy) in vital organs. Western medicine involves an analysis of ED symptom and underlying causes that contribute to ED, while TCM emphases the concept of holism and harmonization of body organs to achieve natural sexual life. The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western Medicine and TCM.
Finally, prevalence rates will be affected by whether the study population is accrued from a single hospital/clinic setting or from a more general population of men with diabetes. For example, Siu et al.4 studied 500 Chinese diabetic men (of which 97% had type 2 disease) seen at a single medical clinic in Hong Kong during 1999 and found the overall prevalence of ED to be 63.6%. Contrast this to Fedele et al.,5 who studied 9,756 diabetic men accrued from 178 diabetes centers in Italy. Among the 8,373 men with type 2 diabetes, only 37% reported ED, considerably less than in the Chinese study.

High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). Some of the medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause ED as well. According to the authors of one study, about 30 percent of men with high blood pressure also have had ED. Finding a medication that treats high blood pressure without causing ED is a goal of many men.
Obesity is a strong predictor of ED as it is associated with other risk factors, such as diabetes, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.4 Obesity increases the risk of ED by 30–90 % and acts as an independent risk factor for CVD. Obese men with ED have greater impairment in endothelial function than non-obese men with ED.5 Moreover, high BMI causes low testosterone levels, which in turn leads to ED, as observed in a prospective trial involving 7,446 participants.50
Organic nitrates are drugs that widen arteries by increasing their supply of nitric oxide; that's how they open the partially blocked coronary arteries in patients with angina. But because nitrates and ED pills both act on nitric oxide, the drugs don't mix; healthy volunteers given Viagra followed an hour later by nitroglycerin see their blood pressures drop by 25–51 mm Hg, a potentially dangerous amount. All experts agree that men who are taking nitrates cannot use ED pills; this includes all preparations of nitroglycerin (short-acting, under-the-tongue tablets or sprays), long-acting nitrates (isosorbide dinitrate or Isordil, Sorbitrate, and others, and isosorbide mononitrate, Imdur, ISMO, and others), nitroglycerin patches and pastes, and amyl nitrite or amyl nitrate (so-called poppers, which some men use for sexual stimulation).
It is recommended that testosterone be measured in patients with ED because low levels are a reliable measure of hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is not only a treatable cause of ED, but can also lead to reduced or lack of response to PDE5 inhibitors.73 Testosterone deficiency is also associated with increased cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.74 Levels >350 ng/dl do not usually require replacement, but in patients with testosterone <230 ng/dl, replacement can usually be beneficial.57 In patients with congestive heart failure, testosterone replacement can lead to fluid retention, so caution is advised. In these patients, the aim should be to keep testosterone levels in the middle range, i.e. 350–600 ng/dl.57
One study the authors reviewed measured these changes in middle-aged men with and without coronary artery disease. This study found that the peak heart rate during intercourse was lower than heart rates measured during the patients' normal daily activities. The study participants' peak oxygen consumption levels during intercourse were moderate -- comparable to their oxygen consumption levels during moderate activities such as walking on level ground at 3 to 4 miles per hour, climbing stairs slowly or doing general housework such as vacuuming.
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.

Andersson said the results came as a surprise because erectile dysfunction is associated with an increased risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy men. However, previous studies have associated the use of PDE5 inhibitors with a decreased blood pressure in the left ventricle, which reduces the amount of work required to pump blood and therefore could help explain why the drugs might benefit people with heart failure. PDE5 inhibitors were initially developed to treat angina, a type of chest pain that results from constricted arteries.
But there are also medical devices like the Elator, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is custom-made with medical-grade silicone based on a patient’s girth and shaft. The technology, which has no known risk factors, has two thin bars that glide along the bottom of the penis, and hold the organ partially or fully erect with a soft, flexible loop, a sliding latch and a base lock and base ring.

Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood gets deposited in arteries, the blood vessels that feed the heart and brain. These deposits can join with other substances to form plaque, a thick, hard deposit in the blood vessel that leads to atherosclerosis. Plaque can narrow the passageway inside the artery and pinch off the flow of blood to the heart muscle, and to the penis.

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 | Google ScholarSee all References Different classes of β-blockers have been postulated to have differential effects on erectile function, with the nonselective β-blockers (eg, propranolol) having more deleterious effects than the more cardioselective medications (eg, atenolol, metoprolol).42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
Considering the fact that CV disease presents with higher incidence in patients with erectile dysfunction while at the same time sexual activity by itself poses potential CV risks, the appropriate management of those complex conditions is of utmost importance. Accordingly, the working group of the third Princeton Consensus Conference developed practical guidelines and a simplified algorithm in order to manage sexual dysfunction and sexual activity implementation issues in patients with different levels of CV risk, including hypertensive patients[90].
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Vision changes are described most frequently as an increased perception of bright lights, a blue-green tinge to observed colors, or blurred vision. Sildenafil has no direct effect on platelet function but potentiates the inhibitory effect of sodium nitroprusside on adenosine diphosphate–induced platelet aggregation ex vivo.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
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.

There are blood pressure medications that do not cause erectile dysfunction (ED). Some older blood pressure medications, especially beta blockers and thiazide diuretics, are the most likely to cause ED as a side effect. Better options include calcium channel blockers, which lower high blood pressure through a different mechanism. Don't just go off your medications, though; high blood pressure itself is a common cause of ED, so lowering your blood pressure is an important part of your ED treatment plan. And if you stop taking your blood pressure medications 'cold turkey', your blood pressure could actually sky rocket, putting you at risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Work with your doctor on ways to lower your blood pressure without lowering your sex drive.
After getting a diagnosis of ED, most patients can begin treatment right away, but treatment may be delayed for some patients until the health of the heart is more fully assessed or improved. The most common treatment for ED is a pill (phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor; PDE5-I): Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or Levitra (vardenafil). Each of these pills improves erections when taken before sexual activity; alternatively, a low dose of Cialis can be taken once a day. These medicines work by allowing the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis to dilate better during sexual stimulation. The PDE5-Is decrease blood pressure a little bit, but they are safe with most other medications and with other blood pressure pills. The PDE5-Is are not safe with nitrate medications like nitroglycerin, Nitrostat, Nitro Paste, Imdur, isosorbide mononitrate, and Isordil. Mixing a PDE5-I with a nitrate medication could result in severely low blood pressure and even death. Inform all medical professionals (including the ambulance or emergency department) about your most recent ED pill ingestion so that nitrates can be avoided. If you have high blood pressure or benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate) and take medicines called α-blockers, your doctor may need to start you on the lowest dose of the PDE5-I.
But there are also medical devices like the Elator, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is custom-made with medical-grade silicone based on a patient’s girth and shaft. The technology, which has no known risk factors, has two thin bars that glide along the bottom of the penis, and hold the organ partially or fully erect with a soft, flexible loop, a sliding latch and a base lock and base ring.

What comes after an ED diagnosis in diabetic patients? Often, Dr. Eid will instantly refer these men to a cardiologist. “If a patient has diabetes and is newly diagnosed, a significant portion of these men are going to develop coronary artery disease in the next 2-3 years,” he said. “One of the things we do is recommend is that they see a cardiologist and perhaps have a stress test or some sort of evaluation.”
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with vascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart disease, and hyperlipidemia) had significantly decreased peak systolic velocities and increased end-diastolic velocities. Patients with diabetes mellitus had increased end-diastolic velocities and decreased resistive indices, indicating a disorder of venous trapping during erections. Another study examined corpora cavernosal tissue removed at penile prosthesis placement in 21 diabetic men and 42 nondiabetic controls.23x23Saenz de Tejada, I, Goldstein, I, Azadzoi, K, Krane, RJ, and Cohen, RA. Impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of penile smooth muscle from diabetic men with impotence. N Engl J Med. 1989; 320: 1025–1030
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References Similar to sildenafil, vardenafil produces a slight hypotensive effect with an average maximal decrease in blood pressure level of 5 to 10 mm Hg.74x74Gresser, U and Gleiter, CH. Erectile dysfunction: comparison of efficacy and side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil—review of the literature. Eur J Med Res. 2002; 7: 435–446

Erectile dysfunction is very common as men age. Erectile dysfunction is frequently a sign of atherosclerosis, a clogging or narrowing of the blood vessels that causes heart attacks. Erectile dysfunction usually comes 3 to 5 years before a heart attack, so after ED is diagnosed, there is time to treat atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack. Treating atherosclerosis involves diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary. Talk with your doctor about a broken sex life, and you might be able to prevent a broken heart.
Diabetes doubles or even triples the chance that you’ll have erectile dysfunction (ED) and that you could develop it a decade earlier than other men. In fact, the two conditions are so closely linked that some experts believe that for men younger than 45, impotence, or ED, could be an early warning sign of diabetes. The good news is that diabetes treatment, especially if you identify type 2 diabetes early, can also ease ED.

"If you have an active sex life after a heart attack, it is probably safe to use PDE5 inhibitors," said Daniel Peter Andersson, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and the study's lead author. "This type of erectile dysfunction treatment is beneficial in terms of prognosis, and having an active sex life seems to be a marker for a decreased risk of death."


There are a number of herbs and supplements for use in men with ED. However, the overall quality of the studies evaluating these treatments has been low. Therefore, evidence for the effectiveness and safety of these therapies is limited. Many of these therapies have known risks, and there’s a possibility that other risks are yet to be discovered. Always use CAM therapies with caution.
Cardiovascular disease remains our nation’s biggest killer, responsible for about one-third of deaths in the U.S.1 Erectile dysfunction (ED) is typically the first clinical manifestation of cardiovascular disease, making it a helpful early marker for men who are likely to die of heart attacks. There is a strong relationship between erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, heart attack and a premature death.2, 3

The number of men reporting improvement was at 88% during the study. The number of men involved in the study who reported impotence dropped from 75.3 % to 11.8%. The results of this study raise hope for men who have quit taking other blood pressure medications because they interfered with sexual function. Sexual dysfunction was defined for the study as decreased libido, impotence and poor sexual satisfaction.


Heart disease and erectile dysfunction can be related. In fact, ED and heart disease are considered two signs of the same disease process. The smaller arteries in the penis are affected by atherosclerosis sooner, perhaps three or more years before they cause heart disease symptoms.11 A large international study found that men with ED were more likely to die from heart causes; have a heart attack, stroke or be admitted to the hospital with heart failure than men with no or mild ED.12

Finding a potential early sign of heart disease is vital: Every minute in the United States someone dies from a heart disease-related event. Doctors know to watch for risks like obesity and high blood pressure; however, Men’s Health reports 50 percent of men who die from heart disease have never had one of these symptoms. For younger men, treating ED as an indicator of heart health could be a lifesaver.


Most of the time, ED is the first symptom of poor cardiovascular health. Hypertension oftentimes doesn’t manifest outward symptoms of heart disease.  Some men go undiagnosed with high blood pressure for a long time. It can be troublesome for many men who feel uncomfortable discussing ED with their health providers. Many fail to seek medical advice and suffer from progressive worsening of their cardiovascular problems before deciding to undergo treatment.
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
Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.

There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
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