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
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
Unfortunately, government agencies often are slow to respond to new scientific information and economic and political forces make it difficult for our population to receive clear information informing them that heart disease is nutritionally induced and totally avoidable with dietary excellence. Sadly, even the American Heart Association advocates a diet that has been shown to actually increase heart disease.
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.
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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?
These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.
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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (528) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil also has good efficacy in patients with ischemic heart disease, as shown by a retrospective subanalysis of data from 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies involving 3672 patients with ED and ischemic heart disease who were not taking nitrates.59x59Kloner, RA. Cardiovascular risk and sildenafil. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 57F–61F
In years past, before nitric oxide and its role in the erectile response was appreciated, testosterone was used to treat sexual dysfunction in men. It proved a partial success as a standalone therapy, resulting in improved erectile potency in 40–60% of men with low-to-normal testosterone levels. The likelihood of success increased, however, if starting testosterone levels were low (usually defined as below 300 ng/dL), in which case improved erections were experienced by as many as 65% of men, compared with 16.7% receiving placebo; topical testosterone preparations were also noted to be superior to oral replacement or injections.21 These findings were confirmed by another study that showed testosterone produced modest improvements in erectile function and libido in men with low-to-normal testosterone levels.22
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.
Erectile dysfunction usually precedes cardiovascular events by 3 to 5 years. Therefore, sexual function should be incorporated into cardiovascular disease risk assessment for all men. Recently, algorithms for the management of patients with erectile dysfunction according to the risk for sexual activity and future cardiovascular events were proposed. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) will result in significant benefits on overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling will exert beneficial effects on the quality of life of hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction and will improve adherence to antihypertensive drug therapy.
A thorough history (including cardiovascular symptoms, age, presence of risk factors and comorbid conditions such as obesity, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, pre-diabetes, CAD, peripheral artery disease, symptoms suggestive of sleep apnoea, family history of premature atherothrombotic CVD and lifestyle factors), assessment of ED severity (according to SHIM) and duration, and physical examination (for both heart and peripheral circulation pathology) are mandatory first-line elements of investigation. A resting electrocardiogram, measurement of fasting plasma glucose, and estimation of glomerular filtration rate are desirable tests that may be used to further characterize cardiovascular status and risk and to identify men who require additional cardiologic workup. Owing to the accumulating evidence supporting the link with CVD, the measurement of testosterone is recommended in all men with a diagnosis of organic ED, especially in those for whom phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor therapy failed.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil has a 4000-fold increased selectivity for PDE-5 over PDE-3, has negligible effects on heart rate, and has only a modest effect on blood pressure level in healthy persons, with an average systolic pressure decrease of 10 mm Hg with a single dose of 100 mg.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
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
In the past 6 years, the FDA has approved three oral agents for the treatment of ED: sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. All three are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors and work by potentiating the effect of nitric oxide in the penis. In particular, they block the hydrolysis of cyclic guanosine monophosphate to guanosine 5'-monophosphate, thus enhancing nitric oxide–mediated smooth muscle relaxation, increasing blood flow to the penis and facilitating erection.
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.
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
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.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References As with sildenafil, use of nitrate or NO-donor medications is contraindicated while taking tadalafil because of the potential for marked hypotensive interactions.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
The safety of PDE5 inhibitors in patients with IHD has been shown in multiple trials. Arruda-Olson et al. investigated the safety of sildenafil during exercise stress tests in patients with IHD to ascertain whether the drug induces or exacerbates myocardial ischaemia. This was a prospective, randomised crossover study that demonstrated safety of sildenafil when given 1 hour before an exercise stress test.69 Another study that investigated 120 trials of sildenafil revealed that the rates of MI and cardiovascular death with sildenafil are as low as with placebo.70
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.
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.
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.