Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common disorder that affects the quality of life of many patients. It is prevalent in more than half of males aged over 60 years. Increasing evidence suggests that ED is predominantly a vascular disorder. Endothelial dysfunction seems to be the common pathological process causing ED. Many common risk factors for atherosclerosis such as diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia are prevalent in patients with ED and so management of these common cardiovascular risk factors can potentially prevent ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors provide short-term change of haemodynamic factors to help initiate and maintain penile erection. They have been shown to be an effective and safe treatment strategy for ED in patients with heart disease, including those with ischaemic heart disease and hypertension.
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

Since their introduction in the therapeutic field, more than a decade ago, PDE-5 inhibitors have revolutionized the treatment of sexual dysfunction. By blocking the activity of PDE-5 isoenzyme, localized throughout the smooth muscle cells of the vasculature (genital vessels included), PDE-5 inhibitors increase the levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate thus exerting vasodilating properties and facilitating penile erection[40-42]. Due to these properties, sildenafil was the first drug of its class to receive wide acceptance. Its short half-life, food interactions and the associated visual disturbances however, paved the way for the development of newer PDE-5 inhibitors. As such vardenafil with its more rapid onset of action, and tadalafil with its longer half-life and the lack of food interactions or side effects, have offered significant alternatives to sildenafil[43-50].
For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.

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
This form of therapy has a response rate of well over 70%. The sympathetic nervous system normally maintains the penis in a flaccid or non-erect state. All of the vasoactive drugs, when injected into the corpora cavernosae, inhibit or override sympathetic inhibition to encourage relaxation of the smooth muscle trabeculae. The rush of blood engorges the penile corpora cavernosae sinusoidal spaces and creates an erection.

Ginseng is the most common ingredient among top-selling supplements for men’s sexual health (36). The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen. Ren means “person” and shen means “plant root”. This plant has been named in this manner as its roots resemble the lower limbs of a human, Traditionally, ginseng has been used to restore and enhance the normal well-being of the body. The effects are due to ginseng’s reactions with the central nervous system, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular system. The principal active compounds are triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Animal studies have suggested that specific ginsenosides may be responsible for ginseng-mediated effects on copulatory behavior (37). Ginsenoside induces smooth muscle relaxation by hyperpolarizing the smooth muscle membrane via activation of large-conductance KCa channels (38).


Qigong is a form of breathing exercises commonly practised in Asia to maintain health (53). In a cross-sectional population-based comparison study in Taiwan, individuals practising Qigong demonstrate higher SF-36 scores in the domains of physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, bodily pain, general health and vitality (54). Techniques to concentrate the energy or qi in the pelvis or genitals are regularly practised, but the effects of Qigong on ED have not been studied.
Having chronically high blood pressure can affect overall satisfaction with sex and affect men’s ability to achieve a firm erection. Due to constant vessel damage as a result of high blood pressure, linings of the arteries begin to harden and narrow, a process called atherosclerosis. Because blood flow is limited to the affected regions of the body, arterial blood circulation to various organs—including the heart muscles, brain, and even the groin—can be compromised, with myocardial infarctions, strokes, and erectile difficulty being common in hypertensive patients. Studies show that approximately 30 percent of hypertensive patients reported having erectile dysfunction, and approximately 49 percent of men aged 40 to 79 had both high blood pressure and ED.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References When used in combination with NO-donor medications such as nitroglycerin, the modest blood pressure effects of sildenafil are potentiated, resulting in a significant decrease in systolic (21-55 mm Hg) and diastolic (up to 26 mm Hg) blood pressure levels, as well as vasodilatory symptoms such as headache, light-headedness, and nausea.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Erectile dysfunction started to become a household term after scientists discovered a drug to treat it. Nowadays, as anyone who watches TV can attest, there are several different medications for ED. Fifty to 70 percent of men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes respond to a class of drugs—including sildenafil (Viagra), var­denafil hydrochloride (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis)—called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors.
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.
"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."
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.
Owing to its delicate nature, discussion about the sexual life of the patient is effective not on a circumstantial visit to the doctor, but on the basis of confidence between the patient and the physician, as is usually the case with the cardiologist. Thus, the cardiologist is given a unique opportunity to identify ED and thus ‘recharacterize’ the risk of the patient. In addition, since normal sexual activity is important to most men with CVD, irrespective of age, the cardiologist can clarify issues that relate to such activity after a cardiac event or to a specific cardiac condition (e.g. heart failure). Often, such issues are hampered by misconceptions from the side of the patient. Therefore, while less than half of the patients receive information about resuming sexual activity after a cardiac event, proper counselling increases their likelihood to resume their previous level of sexual activity by 50%.50 Furthermore, the cardiologist can increase adherence to the medication by clarifying that it is uncommonly the true cause of ED. Finally, proper counselling is required to ensure safety of concomitant PDE5 inhibitors medication, the use of which has the additional advantage to increase compliance to CVD mediation, especially in hypertension. It should be noted that while patients are often reluctant to bring up the issue of sexual health, they are relieved and respond positively when their cardiologist has done so. It should also be emphasized that, frequently, sexual counselling is more effective when done together with their partner.

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.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References They evaluated 40 patients with coronary artery disease who underwent coronary artery catheterization and whose penile brachial index (PBI) was measured by Doppler ultrasonography. Although a positive correlation was noted between the PBI and the severity of coronary artery obstruction, the relationship was not strong. Also, the degree of PBI abnormality did not effectively stratify the patients according to the severity of their coronary artery blockage. This study concluded that the PBI used alone would not be an effective predictor of ischemic heart disease.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (171) | Google ScholarSee all References Incidence increased notably with age in this patient cohort: only 1.1% of diabetic men aged 21 to 30 years had ED compared with 47.1% of all diabetic patients older than 43 years. Diabetic patients often have other cardiovascular risk factors that may play a role in the development of ED. However, in an analysis of the PBI in 441 patients with ED and various cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use), diabetes was the only risk factor that was significantly and independently associated with a decrease in the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (124) | Google ScholarSee all References This was a doubleblind, single-dose crossover study involving 41 men with stable coronary artery disease characterized by reproducible stable exertional angina. After taking either 10 mg of vardenafil or placebo, these men underwent treadmill exercise tolerance testing to 5 to 10 METs. Compared with placebo, vardenafil use did not result in a change in exercise treadmill time or time to first awareness of angina but significantly increased the time to ischemic threshold. At peak exercise levels, vardenafil did not cause a change in either heart rate or blood pressure level. This study concluded that 10 mg of vardenafil did not impair the ability of men with stable coronary artery disease to exercise at levels consistent with the exertion associated with sexual intercourse.
The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.

The following products are considered to be alternative treatments or natural remedies for Erectile Dysfunction. Their efficacy may not have been scientifically tested to the same degree as the drugs listed in the table above. However there may be historical, cultural or anecdotal evidence linking their use to the treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.


A study conducted by Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne Australia published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that men over 20 years of age with erectile dysfunction (ED) have twice the risk of cardiovascular incidents than those of men with normal sexual health. It was also found out that 2% of men aged 55 and older experienced major stroke and cardiac arrest after the initial episode of ED, within a year; 11% experienced something within five years.  Experts from Prince Henry’s Institute warned men with these failures to seek advice on erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure. This may indicate a missing vital warning sign of impending heart disease. Why is this happening? Do men with ED predispose themselves to have cardiovascular diseases and strokes or just the other way around?
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.

Apostolo A,  Vignati C,  Brusoni D,  Cattadori G,  Contini M,  Veglia F,  Magrì D,  Palermo P,  Tedesco C,  Doria E,  Fiorentini C,  Montorsi P,  Agostoni P. Erectile dysfunction in heart failure: correlation with severity, exercise performance, comorbidities, and heart failure treatment, J Sex Med , 2009, vol. 6 (pg. 2795-2805)https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01416.x
According to the Mayo Clinic, oral medications are usually the first-line treatment for ED. Those medications include Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra). They operate by helping relax muscles in the penis by strengthening the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring chemical in the body. The drugs increase blood flow to allow patients to get an erection.
Some doctors prefer to start a man on the lowest dose of an oral medicine and increase the dose until an effective one is found. Others prefer to start with the highest dose and go to a lower dose only if a man complains of side effects. In either case, it’s important for a man to communicate with his doctor to let him know how the dose he’s using is working.
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