Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of hims, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
For those patients who cannot take erectile dysfunction medications, the authors counsel that an exercise training regimen may be an appropriate substitute therapy to enhance sexual function and quality of life. The authors stress that clinicians should focus on the sexual activity history of chronic heart failure patients and not ignore it, since addressing this element can substantially improve their quality of life.

SOURCES: American Urological Association, "AUA Guideline on the Management of Erectile Dysfunction: Diagnosis and Treatment Recommendations." Barksdale, J. Pharmacotherapy, May 1999; vol 19: pp 573-581. Ferrario, C. Journal of Clinical Hypertension, November/December 2002; vol 4: pp 424-432. Fogari, R. American Journal of Hypertension, January 2001; vol. 14: pp 27-31. Grimm, R. Hypertension, January 1997; vol 29: pp 8-14. Llisteri, J. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, May 2001; vol. 321: pp 336-341. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension: Treatment With ACE Inhibitors."
Counselling or sex therapy (58% of people find this works for them) –mind-related causes of erectile dysfunction can affect anyone. They are more likely if you experience erectile dysfunction at a younger age. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help some people overcome erectile dysfunction related to these problems, possibly for good. They can also help you if your erectile dysfunction is causing you stress, as this can make matters worse.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “because erectile dysfunction is caused by a complex set of psychosocial, neurologic, and vascular factors, a specific cause in a patient may remain ambiguous.” The root causes are often related to a blockage or dysfunction of blood vessels. For example, ED can be due to conditions like atherosclerosis or diabetes, hormonal imbalances or problems related to mental health. It’s been found that common causes typically include one or more of the following factors: (2)
Diaclina (also known as Panzer’s Darkling Beetle), Korean bug are used as aphrodisiacs in China, Korea and Southeast Asia. These are consumed either whole or as compounds within capsules. It is felt that the aphrodisiac properties come by stimulating the urogenital structures. Flies have been studied for their aphrodisiac effects, including Spanish fly, Chinese cantharide, and Eastern-Indian cantharide (32). The active compound found in the dried and mashed up bodies of these flies is cantharidin, which is a pheromone produced in the accessory glands of the male flies’ genitals. Cantharidin, stimulates the urogenital tract, causing pelvic hyperemia and possibly erections. As cantharidin is toxic and its safety dose not well determined, its use cannot be recommended. Cantharidin is lethal at high doses and exposure can lead to gastrointestinal and urogenital hemorrhage as well as acute renal failure.
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
The bad news: Men with diabetes are three times more likely to report having problems with sex than non-diabetic men. The most common sexual problem is Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, sometimes called impotence. Even worse, because ED is such a private issue, many men feel embarrassed to discuss the problem with their doctor, or even their partner, so the problem is never addressed.
The blood supply to your penis starts in your heart and flows through arteries in the belly to even smaller arteries that branch off to carry blood into the penis. With sexual stimulation, these blood vessels need to rapidly increase blood flow. If these blood vessels are blocked (atherosclerosis) by coronary artery disease, you may not be able to achieve or maintain an erection.11
The authors observe that multiple factors may be involved. In addition to decreased exercise capacity, patients with chronic heart failure have blood vessel and circulation abnormalities that can reduce blood flow into the penis and interfere with the ability to maintain an erection. And erectile dysfunction can be caused or worsened by many of the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat chronic heart failure.
Deer velvet is a covering found on the growing bone and cartilage of deer’s antlers. In Eastern medicine, deer velvet is sought after for its Chinese medicinal properties which include boosting one’s endurance and improving one’s immunity. People have also used deer velvet as an aphrodisiac or to treat ED. The randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study on deer velvet by Conaglen et al. (31), no benefit but this study was underpowered involving healthy participants with no sexual dysfunction.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Risk of arrythmias after sexual intercourse was evaluated in 82 patients with stable coronary artery disease who were monitored with ambulatory ECG after sexual intercourse.81x81Drory, Y, Fisman, EZ, Shapira, Y, and Pines, A. Ventricular arrhythmias during sexual activity in patients with coronary artery disease. Chest. 1996; 109: 922–924
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References The use of any NO-donor medications should be avoided for 24 hours after the last dose of sildenafil and even longer if there is a suspected prolonged half-life secondary to such conditions as renal insufficiency.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
In a prospective human phase 1 open-label and single-arm study reported by Haahr et al. (27), 17 men with refractory post radical prostatectomy ED were given a single intracavernosal injection of autologous adipose-derived regenerative cells (ADRCs) freshly isolated after a liposuction. The procedures were well-tolerated and over a 6-month follow-up period, 8 of 17 men showed improvement of their erectile function.

The primary complication of the surgical implantation is postoperative infection, which occurs in about 8% of cases involving diabetes. This infection can be difficult to treat and may require the removal of the device, although this occurs <3% of the time. The infection can also cause penile erosion, reduced penile sensation, and auto-inflation. Glycemic control should be optimized several weeks before surgery. Once a patient has surgery, none of the oral agents or vacuum devices will work because of the destroyed penile architecture.
Apart from their beneficial effect in erectile dysfunction and their safe profile in antihypertensive medication, PDE-5 inhibitors have even more advantages to demonstrate. Several lines of evidence has proven that patients receiving PDE-5 inhibitors are more likely to initiate an antihypertensive regime and more willing to add a new agent to their existing treatment, a fact that raises significantly patient’s adherence and as a matter of fact control of high blood pressure and quality of life[63,64]. Moreover, a handful of clinical data has demonstrated the considerable vasodilating and anti-proliferative properties of PDE-5 inhibitors in the pulmonary vasculature, establishing them as a first-line treatment in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension[65,66]. The same properties have been considered as potentially responsible for improving microcirculation in patients with secondary Raynaud phenomenon and ameliorating cardiopulmonary exercise performance in patients with heart failure[67,68]. In addition, the therapeutic implementation of PDE-5 inhibitors has expanded in the field of benign prostate hyperplasia-lower urinary tract symptoms (BPH-LUTS). The common pathophysiologic substrate between erectile dysfunction and BPH-LUTS has rendered PDE-5 inhibitors an effective treatment which significantly improves measures of both conditions while at the same time exhibits high efficacy and safety. The beneficial effect is much more pronounced when taking into consideration the fact that a-blockers, the mainstay of therapy for benign prostate hyperplasia frequently provoke sexual side effects, erectile dysfunction included[69].
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Other candidate mechanisms linking ED and cigarette smoking include hypercoagulability and increased platelet aggregation, increased release of free fatty acids and catecholamines, changes in NO synthetic pathways, and a possible direct toxic effect on vascular endothelium.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430
Red Ginseng — One small randomized trial found evidence that red ginseng may offer modest improvements in ED symptoms (as compared with placebo). A meta-anaylsis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology states, “Traditionally red ginseng has been used to restore and enhance normal well-being, and is often referred to as an adaptogenic….Possible mechanisms of action of red ginseng include hormonal effects similar to those of testosterone. Others have postulated that red ginseng might induce relaxation of the smooth muscles.”  (5)

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.
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.
88. Böhm M, Baumhäkel M, Teo K, Sleight P, Probstfield J, Gao P, Mann JF, Diaz R, Dagenais GR, Jennings GL, et al. Erectile dysfunction predicts cardiovascular events in high-risk patients receiving telmisartan, ramipril, or both: The ONgoing Telmisartan Alone and in combination with Ramipril Global Endpoint Trial/Telmisartan Randomized AssessmeNt Study in ACE iNtolerant subjects with cardiovascular Disease (ONTARGET/TRANSCEND) Trials. Circulation. 2010;121:1439–1446. [PubMed]
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse.  To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.

This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
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

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References Other studies have proposed that the strain involved with intercourse in older patients is less associated with physical exertion and more closely related to sexual arousal.51x51DeBusk, R, Drory, Y, Goldstein, I et al. Management of sexual dysfunction in patients with cardiovascular disease: recommendations of the Princeton Consensus Panel. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 62F–68F


The drugs come in several strengths. Most men should start with a low to moderate dose. The dose can be adjusted depending on the results. Men with potential problems should always start with the lowest dose. Every man should avoid consuming alcohol before taking these drugs. Men who do not respond to a full dose on two or three different occasions should try other treatments.
Artery size also explains the onset of ED before occurrence of CAD. Coronary arteries are 3–4 mm in diameter, while the penile artery is 1–2 mm in diameter.17 Endothelial dysfunction and plaque burden in the small arteries may cause symptoms of ED before they affect blood flow in large arteries. Also, an asymptomatic lipid-rich plaque in the coronary arteries carries the risk of rupture that leads to acute coronary syndrome or death, so ED may be predictive of these serious events without warning cardiac symptoms.17
In another study, 60 patients underwent stress exercise cardiovascular testing and Doppler ultrasonography for measurement of their cavernosal artery peak systolic velocity (PSV).17x17Kawanishi, Y, Lee, KS, Kimura, K et al. Screening of ischemic heart disease with cavernous artery blood flow in erectile dysfunctional patients. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 100–103
A component of the increased risk conferred by ED could be testosterone deficiency.24 Low testosterone leads to increased levels of total and LDL cholesterol, as well as to increased production of pro-inflammatory markers and mediators.25 Endothelial dysfunction and increased arterial wall thickness, stiffening, and calcification also ensue. On this basis it has been hypothesized that chronically lowered testosterone may increase CVD risk. Indeed, androgen deficiency has emerged as a predictor of CV events, as well as of all-cause and CV mortality, both in the general population and in patients with CV risk factors, with hypertension, with established CVD, and with ED.26 Viewed from the opposite angle, higher serum testosterone showed a protective role for CV events in elderly men.27 A 2010 meta-analysis limited to studies in middle-aged men found no association between total testosterone (TT) levels and CVD risk.28 However, a more recent meta-analysis involving a larger number of studies identified significant associations between androgen deficiency and increased risk of CVD and CVD mortality.29 It should be stressed, however, that the nature of these studies cannot prove causality. The possibility that low testosterone may be an epiphenomenon, marking poor general health rather than modulating CVD risk per se has to be explored.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Glycemia, as measured by glycosylated hemoglobin, also has been associated with the risk of developing ED in diabetic patients.21x21Klein, R, Klein, BE, Lee, KE, Moss, SE, and Cruickshanks, KJ. Prevalence of self-reported erectile dysfunction in people with long-term IDDM. Diabetes Care. 1996; 19: 135–141
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
Undoubtedly, heart disease is and will continue to be one of the major health problems of modern society. Approximately one death every forty seconds occurs due to cardiovascular (CV) disease in the United States alone and arterial hypertension is one of the greatest culprits for it[1]. Considering the fact that around 25% of the global population suffer from arterial hypertension, predicted to reach 1.5 billion people in the foreseeable future, it is easily deducted that a respectful part of the general population is under major and constant CV risk[2,3].
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The significant sympathetic discharge associated with sexual intercourse may contribute to the development of arrythmias in susceptible patients.81x81Drory, Y, Fisman, EZ, Shapira, Y, and Pines, A. Ventricular arrhythmias during sexual activity in patients with coronary artery disease. Chest. 1996; 109: 922–924
When dealing with certain medical conditions, it is important to focus treatment toward the root of the problem. If you were to properly manage your high blood pressure without the use of any confounding medications and instead employ a lifestyle change, both ailments would likely disappear. While this would be the ideal case, it isn’t the reality for most patients. Medications are great for controlling high blood pressure, but it’s important to speak with your doctor about any concerns before taking them.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References All these men had ED and twice underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle exercise echocardiography 1 hour after taking either sildenafil (50 mg or 100 mg) or placebo. This study found no significant changes in resting heart rate, diastolic blood pressure level, or wall motion score index, and the exercise capacity of the 2 groups was similar. Both groups had similar numbers of patients who experienced dyspnea and/or chest pain, had a positive exercise echocardiographic test, and had exercise-induced wall motion abnormalities. Sildenafil caused a mean decrease of 7 mm Hg in the resting systolic blood pressure level compared with the placebo group. In conclusion, this study showed that in patients with stable coronary artery disease, sildenafil caused no change in symptoms, exercise endurance, or presence/extent of exercise-induced ischemia as measured by exercise echocardiography.
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 common associations between cardiovascular disease and ED have led some researchers to explore whether onset of ED can be an effective predictor of the presence of cardiovascular disease. A study of 40 patients with cardiac disease found an association between sexual dysfunction and the presence of cardiovascular disease, as well as a correlation between the severity of ED and the number of coronary arteries with extensive atherosclerosis.16x16Greenstein, A, Chen, J, Miller, H, Matzkin, H, Villa, Y, and Braf, Z. Does severity of ischemic coronary disease correlate with erectile function?. Int J Impot Res. 1997; 9: 123–126
Dr. Eid also urges these patients to treat their diabetes in order to avoid developing ED for life. “They need to manage their diabetes and make sure they control it so the ED will not progress and will stabilize, as a result,” he said. “If the diabetes is controlled after the patient is first diagnosed, then the erections will come back. But if the patient has diabetes for many years, and suddenly decides it’s time to control it, they cannot prevent the damage that’s already been done.”
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References The risk of myocardial infarction with sexual activity has been estimated to be less than 3% in high-risk patients with prior cardiovascular disease if they can exercise to more than 7 METs without symptoms.89x89Moss, AJ and Benhorin, J. Prognosis and management after a first myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 1990; 322: 743–753
A variety of personal habits and lifestyle choices have been linked to ED. In some ways, this is a good thing, since habits can be broken and choices reconsidered. What's more, many of the lifestyle factors that contribute to sexual problems are ones that affect overall health and well-being, both physical and mental. Addressing these factors, therefore, can have benefits beyond improving erectile dysfunction.
Branded Viagra can now be bought over the counter in pharmacies, but please check with your GP first if you have a medical condition. It's important to use a reputable pharmacy, as there is a large market in counterfeit drugs for erectile dysfunction, especially over the internet. These contain varying amounts of the active ingredient and sometimes completely different drugs.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Open-label trials showed a myocardial infarction rate of only 1.0 event per 1000 person-years of treatment with sildenafil.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Despite all the options and alternatives, sometimes there’s no suitable alternative to a prescription that contributes to ED. You might have an adverse reaction to an particular medication or an alternative is unavailable in your state, health insurance plan, or your budget. There are good reasons you were prescribed your original medication in the first place.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Hemodynamic stress also may cause rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque resulting in angina, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
ED is easily and successfully treated! If your sex drive is unaffected, but you experience problems achieving or sustaining erection for a period of four to five weeks, you may have ED. Talk to your doctor immediately. Don’t delay—erectile dysfunction doesn’t “just go away!” Additionally, ED could be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening complication, such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease. Ignoring your ED because it’s embarrassing could jeopardize your health.
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