Your choice of blood pressure medications could make a difference in the bedroom (or wherever you like to have sex). Thiazides (diuretics or “water pills”) and beta blockers are the most likely to cause erectile dysfunction (ED), while alpha blockers the least likely. Alpha blockers work by reducing nerve impulses to blood vessels, allowing blood to pass more easily. Ask your doctor whether these or other blood pressure medications are best for you.


Testosterone therapy (TTh) should be reserved for patients who (i) are symptomatic (ED or reduced libido) of testosterone deficiency45 and (ii) they have biochemical evidence of low testosterone (TT <8 nmol/L or 2.3 ng/mL). In men with borderline TT (8–12 nmol/L or 2.3–3.5 ng/mL), a TTh trial (for 3–6 months and continuation if effective) may be envisaged. While adding a PDE5 inhibitor can be considered in men who have not improved with TTh, the usual clinical scenario is to add TTh in patients who have not responded to PDE5 inhibitors. Improvement is dependent on the testosterone levels with better results being obtained at lower levels of TT.45 Despite evidence of benefit in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure), it should be emphasized that TTh is not a medication with cardiovascular indications.
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.

If you have several atherosclerotic risk factors or symptoms of heart disease, your doctor might do additional tests to look for atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. A stress test involves monitoring the heart with an electrocardiogram or images before and after exercise. An angiogram, or cardiac catheterization, involves entering a blood vessel in the leg or wrist to pass instruments into the heart to directly visualize the coronary arteries. During this procedure, atherosclerosis can be treated by inflating a balloon or placing a metal stent in the coronary blood vessel to keep it open. If you and your doctor begin a treatment plan to prevent atherosclerosis at the first sign of ED, then you may significantly delay or prevent the need for these more invasive procedures.
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.
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 initial step in evaluating ED is a thorough sexual history and physical exam. The history can help in distinguishing between the primary and psychogenic causes. It is important to explore the onset, progression, and duration of the problem. If a man gives a history of “no sexual problems until one night,” the problem is most likely related to performance anxiety, disaffection, or an emotional problem. Aside from these causes, only radical prostatectomy or other overt genital tract trauma causes a sudden loss of male sexual function.

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.

Hypertension can affect endothelial function in many ways. It can reduce endothelium-dependent vasodilatation by increasing the vasoconstrictor tone as a result of increased peripheral sympathetic activity.41–43 Another mechanism is hypertension-induced increase in cyclooxygenase activity that leads to an increase in reactive oxygen species; these in turn damage endothelial cells and disrupt their function.44–46 In some cases, endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) gene variations may relate to hypertension-associated endothelial dysfunction.6
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (35) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, if lower blood pressure level was the primary etiology of ED, all classes of antihypertensive agents should be expected to have relatively similar effects on erectile function because of their efficacy in lowering pressure, which has not been seen.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)
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 (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with prior cardiac events should be encouraged to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation programs before restarting sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F


Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.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
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
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
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.”

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.


More than 11 million people in the United States have cardiovascular disease, and each year, about 500,000 survive a myocardial infarction. These patients often seek counseling on their relative risk of resuming sexual activity. In the past, it was often assumed that if a patient could climb 2 flights of stairs without symptoms, it was safe for the patient to engage in sexual activity.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
Sexual problems might mean you have a broken heart, literally. The most common sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED affects up to 30 million men in the United States. Surprisingly, ED might be a sign of heart problems. It is important to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Not only can your doctor prescribe medications to improve sexual function, but together you may be able to prevent a major heart problem like a heart attack. This article outlines the steps that you should take if you think you have ED.
ED can be caused by many things. The most common causes in men with diabetes are problems related to blood vessel– and nerve-related complications. Sometimes, though rarely, ED can be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Depression can also cause ED, as can stress and excessive worrying about sexual performance. Certain medications can cause temporary ED.
When your blood pressure is high for an extended time, it can damage the lining of your arteries and interfere with your blood flow. This appears to affect your ability to get and maintain an erection. A 2012 study published in the journal Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension found that approximately 30 percent of men with hypertension complain of ED.
The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.

In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.


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

Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Regular exercise can significantly decrease the patient's risk of having a myocardial infarction during sexual intercourse by increasing the patient's functional reserve, decreasing the heart rate, and increasing the stroke volume.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
If your doctor says it's OK, you may be able to stop taking blood pressure medications temporarily to see if your sex life improves. To make sure your blood pressure remains within a safe range, you may need frequent blood pressure readings while you're not taking the blood pressure lowering medication that may be causing your sexual difficulties. This can be done with a home blood pressure monitoring device for convenience.
Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.
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.
Tribulus terrestris is a dicotyledonous herbal plant of the Zygophyllaceae family, used to increase serum testosterone levels, which has only been shown in animal studies (40). A prospective, randomized, double blind study of 30 men showed that Tribulus terrestris was not more effective than placebo on improving IIEF scores or serum total testosterone (41). Two accounts of hepato-nephrotoxicity have been reported in young men who ingested high doses of this herbal medication (42,43).
Erection is a neurovascular event that involves spinal and supra spinal pathways. The final common pathway involves the release of nitric oxide (NO) from both endothelial cells and neurons, which acts as a vasodilator causing penile engorgement and erection. NO is degraded by the enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE) type 5 in the penis. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, results when the neurovascular pathway is interrupted by medical conditions or drugs. A 15-item self-administered questionnaire, the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), is one of the most useful tools to evaluate erectile function (EF) in clinical trials, although of much less use in routine clinical practice. The MMAS (Massachusetts Male Aging Study) was the first major epidemiological investigation to study the prevalence of ED. The study found that ED was three times more common in patients with diabetes mellitus. The aetiopathogenesis of ED in diabetes is multifactorial, with vascular and neural factors being equally implicated. Hyperglycaemia is believed to give rise to biochemical perturbations that lead to these microvascular changes. In the MMAS, ED in diabetes was strongly correlated with glycaemic control, duration of disease and diabetic complications. The incidence increased with increasing age, duration of diabetes and deteriorating metabolic control, and was higher in individuals with type 2 diabetes than those with type 1.ED in men with diabetes often affects their quality of life and, as patients are often reluctant to come forward with their symptoms, a carefully taken history is one of the most useful approaches in identifying affected individuals. The PDE inhibitors have revolutionised the management of ED and oral drug therapy is currently first-line therapy for the condition. These agents act by potentiating the action of intracavernosal NO, thereby leading to a more sustained erection. Sildenafil was the first PDE5 inhibitor to undergo evaluation and has been studied extensively. More recently two other agents, vardenafil and tadalafil, have been introduced. All the drugs have been shown to be effective across a wide range of aetiologies of ED, including diabetes. The drugs have been shown to improve EF domain scores, penetration and maintenance of erection, resulting in more successful intercourse. Their effects are greater at higher doses. Sildenafil and vardenafil are shorter-acting agents, while tadalafil has a longer half-life allowing the user more flexibility in sexual activity. Common adverse effects include headache, nasal congestion and dyspepsia, all actions related to inhibition of PDE5. The drugs are generally well tolerated and withdrawal from the clinical studies as a result of drug-related adverse effects were rare. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the presence of oral nitrates is absolutely contraindicated. The clinical studies to date have not evaluated the use of one drug in the case of treatment failure with another agent. Sublingual apomorphine, which stimulates central neurogenic pathways, is a new agent and may be a suitable alternative in those patients in whom PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective or contraindicated. In clinical trials, all IIEF domains except sexual desire were found to have improved after apomorphine. The median times to erection in these studies were 18.9 and 18.8 minutes for the 2 and 3mg doses, respectively. Intraurethral and intracavernosal alprostadil may be a useful alternative when oral drug therapy is ineffective or contraindicated. The management of ED in the diabetic patient may often involve a multidisciplinary approach where psychosexual counselling and specialist urologist advice is required in addition to the skills and expertise of the diabetologist. Finally, the introduction of the new oral agents have completely revolutionised the management of ED and allowed more individuals to come forward for treatment.
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Attainment and maintenance of a firm erection requires good arterial inflow of blood and efficient trapping of venous outflow. Therefore, disease processes that affect the function of the arterial and venous systems would be expected to negatively affect erectile function. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in the male population and is especially evident with increasing age. The interplay of cardiovascular health and sexual function includes the risk of cardiac events precipitated by the physical exertion of sexual activity and by some medications, such as sildenafil, on the cardiovascular system. An estimated 500,000 patients survive a myocardial infarction each year in the United States, and an estimated 11 million patients have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many 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
Low testosterone levels have been observed inconsistently in STZ-induced diabetic and BB rats.18 Androgen deficiency in rats is associated with downregulation of the neuronal isoforms of nitric oxide synthase, suggesting a trophic effect of testosterone on peripheral erectile tissues. In humans, androgens play a larger role in sexual interest and motivation (libido) than in erectile capacity itself; penile erection is more resistant to androgen withdrawal than is sexual desire.19,20

Smoking is an independent risk factor for ED. Tobacco smoking causes direct toxicity to endothelial cells, including decreased eNOS activity, increased adhesion expression and impaired regulation of thrombotic factors.6 A meta-analysis of 19 studies by Tengs and Osgood suggested that 40 % of the impotent men studied were current smokers compared with 28 % who had never smoked.49
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References These hormonal findings were supported by a study of 1132 men aged 30 to 79 years that found an inverse relationship between blood pressure and serum testosterone levels.32x32Khaw, KT and Barrett-Connor, E. Blood pressure and endogenous testosterone in men: an inverse relationship. J Hypertens. 1988; 6: 329–332
Although ED can become a permanent condition, this typically isn’t the case for men who experience occasional erectile difficulties. If you have diabetes, you may still be able to overcome ED through a lifestyle that includes sufficient sleep, no smoking, and stress reduction. ED medications are usually well-tolerated, and can be used for many years to help overcome any ED problems.
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