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.
Having ED means that all, most, or some of the time, the penis fails to become or stay hard enough for sexual intercourse. If, on rare occasions, you cannot get an erection, you do not have ED. You also do not have ED if you have a decrease in sexual desire, have premature ejaculation, or if you fail to ejaculate or reach orgasm. ED means that you can’t get or keep an erection.
When it comes to combating heart disease, most information sources promote drugs and surgery as the only viable options, with lip service to dietary advice that simply does not work. As a result, the demand for high-tech, expensive, but largely ineffective medical care is soaring, causing medical costs and insurance rates to skyrocket. This chase for "cures" is both financially devastating and futile. Morbidity and premature mortality from heart disease continue to rise, with no sign of abating.

This disparity is due not only to the setting in which the patients were accrued, but also to the manner in which they were questioned, because data in the Italian study were collected by the medical staff during subjects' visits for medical care, which might have also affected reporting rates. De Berardis et al.6 used a fairly generalizable cohort of 1,460 Italian men with type 2 diabetes accrued from 114 outpatient clinics and patient lists of 112 general practitioners. However, unlike the other Italian study, they used self-administered, validated questionnaires to assess the prevalence of ED among diabetic men. They found that 34% reported frequent erectile problems, and 24% reported moderate problems, for an overall prevalence of 58%. Depending on how one wishes to define “clinically significant” ED, this is probably a fairly accurate assessment.
While additional investigation is usually necessary, the medical and sexual history is essential and frequently the most revealing aspect of the ED assessment process. Questionnaires are an integral part of the history. The International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), a 15-item, self-evaluation questionnaire is a validated instrument for assessing erectile function, orgasmic function, desire and satisfaction after sexual relations.8 An abridged version of the IIEF is a 5-item questionnaire the Sexual Health Inventory for Men (SHIM) or IIEF-5 (Table 2). Responses to the five questions range from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Questions 2 to 4 may be graded 0 (if there is no sexual activity, or no sexual intercourse attempt) and the final score ranges from 1 to 25 points; a descending score indicates worsening of erectile function, with values ≤21 being diagnostic of ED.8 Importantly, validated questionnaires correlate with the extend of CAD9 and improve the predictive value of ED for total cardiovascular events compared with a single-question ED diagnosis.5 It cannot be overemphasized that the SHIM can be effectively used not only by andrologists and urologists but by a wide array of medical specialists, such as cardiologists, diabetologists, primary care physicians, etc.

The phrase “use it before you lose it” can be applied when it comes to helping men with ED regain normal erectile function. Pelvic exercises, more commonly known as kegel exercises, are used to promote urinary continence and sexual health. They help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, it pumps during ejaculation, and it helps empty the urethra after urination, according to Healthline.
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.

There are many alternative treatments that may be used to treat erectile dysfunction, although their effectiveness hasn't been proven. Men may benefit from acupuncture to reduce stress and help treat erectile dysfunction. Some people claim that herbal supplements such as Korean red ginseng, ginkgo, and yohimbine may be helpful for treating erectile dysfunction. Other helpful supplements for treating erectile dysfunction may include DHEA (a hormone in testosterone) and L-arginine. However, it's important to remember that these and other supplements may actually contain harmful substances, so talk with your doctor before taking supplements for treating erectile dysfunction.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitrates have only modest antianginal effects and offer no prognostic benefit for mild recurrent angina or unstable angina. Therefore, such anginal symptoms occurring after sildenafil use should be treated with other nonnitrate antianginal agents such as β-blockers.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile dysfunction secondary to cardiovascular disease often responds well to the standard ED treatments developed over the past few decades. Penile prosthesis implantation was developed in the 1970s, followed by intracavernosal injections of vasoactive agents, including papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1, introduced in the 1980s.11x11Nehra, A. Intracavernosal therapy: when oral agents fail. Curr Urol Rep. 2001; 2: 468–472
The links between hypertension and ED are increasingly recognized and the 2009 re-appraisal of European guidelines includes relevant statements.35,47 Erectile dysfunction is almost twice as frequent in hypertensive as in normotensive individuals and appears to be of higher severity. The relative risk of developing ED in hypertensive patients compared with normotensive individuals ranges from 1.3 to 6.9. Regarding pathophysiology, hypertension appears to cause ED per se, through a multitude of mechanisms that include prolonged exposure to elevated levels of systemic blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction, and circulation of vasoactive substance (with a pivotal role of angiotensin II) that lead to structural and functional alterations in the penile arteries. The largely unfounded (see earlier paragraph) notoriety of antihypertensive treatment for causing ED is one of the most predominant causes for non-adherence and discontinuation of antihypertensive therapy, and therefore, patients should be properly informed by physicians. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are effective in hypertensive patients with ED and they can safely be co-administered with antihypertensive medication.39 Specifically for alpha-blockers, low starting doses of PDE5 inhibitors are preferred in patients already on alpha-blocker treatment, and likewise, low starting doses of alpha-blockers are encouraged in patients taking PDE5 inhibitors. Of clinical significance is that hypertensive men with ED are more likely to comply with their antihypertensive medication when under PDE5 inhibitors.
Cardiovascular disease and ED represent 2 common disease processes that are often intimately associated with one another. These common pathophysiological links necessitate a solid scientific and clinical understanding of these 2 disorders and a team effort between the cardiologist and urologist to provide effective management strategies for these patients.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References It has been postulated that regular exercise can decrease or possibly eliminate the small risk of myocardial infarction associated with sexual intercourse in most patients.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
Diuretics: Also called water pills, this medication is a common treatment for reducing blood pressure. They work by getting rid of unnecessary water and salt in the urine. This essentially helps lower blood pressure and can make it easier for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, diuretics can reduce the blood flow to the penis, making erections difficult to achieve. Zinc levels have been known to diminish due to diuretic use, which may lead to a decreased production of overall testosterone.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (71) | Google ScholarSee all References However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 22 middle-aged men with hypercholesterolemia treated for 6 weeks with pravastatin or lovastatin showed improved erectile function with both medications.54x54Kostis, JB, Rosen, RC, and Wilson, AC. Central nervous system effects of HMG CoA reductase inhibitors: lovastatin and pravastatin on sleep and cognitive performance in patients with hypercholesterolemia. J Clin Pharmacol. 1994; 34: 989–996
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.
Chlamydia and erectile dysfunction: What's the link? Some people who have chlamydia also experience erectile dysfunction (ED), which involves problems getting or maintaining an erection. Chlamydia can infect the prostate gland, leading to prostatitis, pain, and ED. In this article, learn more about the link between this common infection and ED, and treatments for both. Read now
It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.
Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.

At the same time, people with diabetes are susceptible to a type of blood vessel damage known as endothelial dysfunction. A recent study found that men with ED are at a greater risk of heart disease, which is also associated with endothelial dysfunction. If blood vessels aren't in good working order, the penis may not get enough blood for an erection.
The most important way to protect your heart is to eat a Nutritarian diet and that means eating your G-BOMBS: greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. Natural plant foods have numerous cardio-protective effects. For example, greens activate the Nrf2 system, which turns on natural detoxification mechanisms and protects blood vessels against inflammatory processes that lead to atherosclerotic plaque buildup.9
Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. "It's not a great drug," says McCullough. "And I suspect the herb is not as potent as the pharmaceutical version." What's more, evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References However, subsequent studies of older patients who had sexual intercourse in their home and were monitored with ambulatory ECG reported significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F

If impotence affects you or someone you love, don’t lose hope. You may be suffering from a medical or emotional issue that is causing low libido or impotence — possibly interfering with both your confidence and relationship — but the good news is there are effective natural remedies for impotence that can help reverse this problem in most men. Around 70 percent of ED cases are resolved with natural impotence remedies that can help restore your sexual health.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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.
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.
The research is based on a Swedish national database of health records that includes all hospitals in Sweden. Researchers analyzed the records of men age 80 years or younger who were hospitalized for a first heart attack between 2007 and 2013. Tracking the men for an average of 3.3 years following this first heart attack, they compared outcomes among those who subsequently filled a prescription for a PDE5 inhibitor or alprostadil to those who did not. Overall just over 7 percent of men were prescribed an erectile dysfunction drug, 92 percent of whom were prescribed a PDE5 inhibitor and 8 percent of whom were prescribed alprostadil.

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.


A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of relevant studies in this field confirmed that erectile dysfunction is associated with increased risk of CV events and all-cause mortality[89]. The pooled relative risks were 1.44 (95%CI: 1.27-1.63) for total CV events, 1.19 (95%CI: 0.97-1.46) for CV mortality, 1.62 (95%CI: 1.34-1.96) for myocardial infarction, 1.39 (95%CI: 1.23-1.57) for cerebrovascular events, and 1.25 (95%CI: 1.12-1.39) for all-cause mortality, for men with vs without erectile dysfunction. Of note, the relative risk was higher in intermediate-compared with high- or low-CV-risk populations and with younger age, with obvious clinical implications. Interestingly, the relative risks were higher when erectile dysfunction was diagnosed with the use of a questionnaire compared with a single question (RR = 1.61; 95%CI: 1.38-1.86 vs RR = 1.27; 95%CI: 1.18-1.37, respectively; P = 0.006).
Although DM patients often correctly assume that their ED is of organic origin, a psychogenic component should be considered, especially in the younger patient. If this is the case, the patient may benefit from psychosocial therapy that includes anxiety reduction and desensitization, cognitivebehavioral intervention, sexual stimulation techniques, and interpersonal assertiveness with couples communication training.6 Not all healthcare providers offer these options. Freudian-based psychotherapy for EDDM has not been proved to be efficacious.
Medications used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, especially antihypertensive medications, have been implicated frequently in the development of sexual dysfunction. A study of 5485 patients in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program found that, during a 5-year period, 8.3% of male hypertensive patients stopped taking their antihypertensive medications secondary to sexual adverse effects.35x35Curb, JD, Borhani, NO, Blaszkowski, TP, Zimbaldi, N, Fotiu, S, and Williams, W. Long-term surveillance for adverse effects of antihypertensive drugs. JAMA. 1985; 253: 3263–3268
The body’s source for nitric oxide production is the amino acid L-arginine, which is naturally found in many foods. The average American ingests about 3,000–5,000 mg of L-arginine per day, as it is an amino acid naturally contained in many foods. Meats of all varieties, nuts, and dairy products are rich in L-arginine, so the body is accustomed to intake levels of several thousand milligrams every day.

Older age. A man’s risk increases past the age of 40, as age is the variable most strongly associated with impotence. This is due to changing hormones, higher risk for heart problems and those affecting circulation, and decreased sexual desire that often occurs with increasing age. For example, based on findings from the National Health and Social Life Survey, it’s been found that “men between 50–60 years old are more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared to men aged 18 to 29 years.” (3)

Getting frequent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are, of course, also important. Plus, avoiding or minimizing risky dietary factors such as salt, alcohol, caffeine, and too much animal products is crucial. Animal protein elevates insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the blood, a growth-promoting hormone that is associated with increased risk of several cancers and cardiovascular disease.19, 20


The study, which retrospectively tracked more than 43,000 men for an average of 3.3 years, found that men prescribed phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—the type of erectile dysfunction drug sold under the names Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and others—after their first heart attack were 38 percent less likely to die from any cause. No survival benefit was seen among men taking alprostadil, another type of erectile dysfunction drug that works through a different mechanism.

Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
×