With atherosclerosis, the blood vessels are not able to dilate properly, which is called endothelial dysfunction (see the Figure). Cholesterol builds up in the blood vessel walls and forms plaques, which make the vessels narrow and slow down blood flow. When a plaque becomes very advanced, it can completely stop blood from passing through, which is what happens in a heart attack. Atherosclerosis affects not only the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries), but also blood vessels throughout the entire body. Atherosclerosis causes angina (chest pain that is often exertional), heart attacks, strokes, claudication (pain in the legs with walking), and ED. Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years. This warning sign can be a good thing if it alerts you and your doctor that you have atherosclerosis, because then you can take steps to treat the atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack or stroke.
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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a randomized placebo-controlled trial of 65 patients given either placebo or 95 mg/d of sustained-release metoprolol for 4 months after percutaneous coronary angioplasty found no significant difference in sexual function between the 2 groups.44x44Franzen, D, Metha, A, Seifert, N, Braun, M, and Hopp, HW. Effects of beta-blockers on sexual performance in men with coronary heart disease: a prospective, randomized and double blinded study. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 348–351
The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
80. Montorsi F, Briganti A, Salonia A, Rigatti P, Margonato A, Macchi A, Galli S, Ravagnani PM, Montorsi P. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 2003;44:360–364; discussion 364-365. [PubMed]

Mechanical therapy is also effective and is especially well-accepted in men with stable partners. Vacuum-assisted erection devices are effective in creating erections in as much as 67% of cases. Vacuum pressure encourages increased arterial inflow, and occlusive tension rings discourage venous outflow from the penile corpus cavernosae. The penis placed inside the cylinder, a pump is used to produce a vacuum that pulls the blood into the penis. After the tension ring is slipped onto the base of the penis, the cylinder is removed. Erection lasts until the rings are removed. The one-time expense of this therapy is $120–300.
De Berardis et al.6 assessed general HRQOL in 1,460 men with type 2 diabetes in Italy. Within the cohort, 615 men reported that they never experienced ED, 346 stated that they occasionally had ED, and 449 stated that they frequently had ED. They then compared general HRQOL among these three groups. In the univariate analysis, they found that degree of ED negatively correlated with general HRQOL scores in all eight domains of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) health survey questionnaire. In the multivariate analysis, ED was not independently associated with physical function, bodily pain, or role limitations due to physical problem scores but was independently associated with general HRQOL outcomes in the domains of general health (P = 0.004), role limitations due to emotional problems (P = 0.001), vitality (P = 0.001), social functioning (P = 0.01), and overall mental health (P = 0.002). Another study examining the effect of ED on quality of life in hemodialysis patients, more than half of whom had diabetes, also noted an independent, negative effect of ED on the emotional domains of general HRQOL.39
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References The 9-year follow-up MMAS study also found that self-reported increased cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake correlated positively with the development of ED.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
Furthermore, if feelings of sadness, bloating, or weight gain are prominent, it may be beneficial to measure a form of estrogen called estradiol. This form of estrogen can be elevated in men, particularly in those who are overweight, and may trigger these abnormal responses, increasing the risk of heart disease. Estradiol levels above 30 pg/mL are generally considered abnormal. Weight loss can help correct elevated estradiol, as can prescription “aromatase inhibitors,” such as Arimidex®. In addition, a nutritional supplement called chrysin has been shown in the laboratory to inhibit the aromatase enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone to estradiol.24 You should consult your doctor to determine if this supplement may be helpful for you.

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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS found the total prevalence of minimal to severe ED to be 52% and estimated that more than 617,000 new cases were expected to occur annually in the United States.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
The choice is yours. You do not have to die of a heart attack, and you do not have to have erectile dysfunction. Both are the result of dietary choices, and you can make a choice right now to protect your life. Do you want to die of a heart attack or don’t you? If you don’t, then are you willing to do what it takes to reduce your risk almost 100 percent? I don’t know about you, but for me, just dropping my risk 20 to 40 percent with medical care is not enough. I want maximum protection.

Overall, sildenafil appears to be relatively safe and effective for treatment of ED in men with stable cardiovascular disease who are not taking NO-donor medications. In a study of 105 men with ED and known or likely coronary artery disease, patients underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle echocardiography 2 times after receiving either sildenafil or placebo.63x63Arruda-Olson, AM, Mahoney, DW, Nehra, A, Leckel, M, and Pellikka, PA. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil during exercise in men with known or probable coronary artery disease: a randomized crossover trial. JAMA. 2002; 287: 719–725

If you take a diuretic, you should stay on it until high blood pressure is under control. If erection problems persist, or blood pressure goes back up, then your doctor might switch to a drug that's less likely to cause erectile dysfunction. Or, a combination of medications might work better to control high blood pressure and lower the risk of erectile dysfunction.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Originally evaluated as a mild preload reducer and antianginal agent in its early phases of development, sildenafil's effect on male and female genitalia became quickly apparent.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
A penile prosthesis is another treatment option for men with erectile dysfunction. These devices are either malleable (bendable) or inflatable. The simplest type of prosthesis consists of a pair of malleable rods surgically implanted within the erection chambers of the penis. With this type of implant the penis is always semi-rigid and merely needs to be lifted or adjusted into the erect position to initiate sex. Today, many men choose a hydraulic, inflatable prosthesis, which allows a man to have an erection whenever he chooses and is much easier to conceal. It is also more natural.
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
When these drugs don't work, there are other options. Medications that dilate blood vessels, such as alprostadil, can be injected or deposited in the penis; they work in more than 80 percent of men with diabetes. Beyond that, penile implants can be an effective surgical solution. Implants are either malleable rods, which can be manually adjusted to the desired position, or inflatable cylinders that fill with fluid when a pump under the skin of the scrotum is pressed.
Diabetic damage doesn’t stop with these small vessels, he said. “You really have two parallel situations: You need blood flow that feeds the muscle of the penis, and you need an artery dedicated to bringing blood rapidly when a man becomes aroused and wants to be sexually active,” he said. “That artery is also affected by diabetes. They’ll say ‘I can get a partial erection, but I can’t maintain it.’ ”
The cardiovascular adverse effects of sildenafil use have been studied extensively. Phosphodiesterase type 5, although located primarily in the genitalia, also can be found throughout the systemic vasculature, although other PDEs predominate there10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
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
Co-authors Stacy Mandras, M.D., Patricia Uber, Pharm. D., and Mandeep Mehra, M.D., conducted systematic independent literature searches using the MEDLINE database and examined a broad range of medical research that focused on chronic heart failure, sexual activity and sexual dysfunction. This literature included data from patient surveys and clinical trials.
Medicines known as PDE5 inhibitors can help two-thirds of men with ED. These include Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil). You may need to take several doses over time before they work properly, and you may need to adjust the dose. National guidelines say you can be prescribed these drugs from six months after a heart attack, providing your condition is stable.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References Sedentary patients with a history of cardiac disease and patients with unstable angina or advanced congestive heart failure should undergo a full medical evaluation before resuming sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Withdrawal of sexual stimulation causes a return of sympathetic tone and degradation of cGMP, predominantly by phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) within the trabecular smooth muscle.11x11Nehra, A. Intracavernosal therapy: when oral agents fail. Curr Urol Rep. 2001; 2: 468–472

It’s crucial that any underlying medical condition, such as angina or diabetes, is detected. So if you’re experiencing problems with ED, book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will assess and examine you to try to establish the cause of the problem, and may refer you for tests. Don’t take any medicine for ED without first discussing it with your doctor.
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.

Erectile dysfunction is common in the CVD patient. It is an important component of the quality of life and it also confers an independent risk for future CV events. The usual 3-year time frame between the onset of ED symptoms and a CV event offers an opportunity for risk mitigation. Thus, sexual function should be incorporated into CVD risk assessment for all men. Algorithms for the management of patient with ED have been proposed according to the risk for sexual activity and future CV events. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) improves overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling improves the quality of life and increases adherence to medication. Testosterone assessment may be useful for both diagnosis of ED, risk stratification and further management. There are issues to be addressed, such as whether PDE5 inhibition reduces CV risk. Management of ED requires a collaborative approach and the role of the cardiologist is pivotal.
"We think that if you have an active sex life it's probably an indicator of a healthy lifestyle, especially in the oldest quartile—those 70 to 80 years old," Andersson said. "From the perspective of a doctor, if a patient asks about erectile dysfunction drugs after a heart attack and has no contraindications for PDE5 inhibitors, based on these results you can feel safe about prescribing it."
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References When matched for age, hypertension, diabetes, and tobacco use, no significant difference was noted in the presence of ED (42% in the myocardial infarction group vs 48% in the control group). However, the presence of severe congestive heart failure has been associated with increased ED. A study of 80 patients with New York Heart Association class III/IV congestive heart failure found that 40% of these patients had complete ED, and another 40% had either mild or moderate ED.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N

Higher consumption of fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and beans helps to keep blood pressure in the favorable range.10 Beans, nuts and seeds have unique cholesterol-lowering capabilities.11-13 Berries and the flavonoids they contain have a blood pressure-lowering effect, plus berries and pomegranate have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that protect against the development of heart disease.14-18


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS 9-year follow-up study has shown that a body mass index of 28 kg/m2 or higher was an independent predictor for ED, with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.96.5x5Feldman, 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


There are blood pressure medications that do not cause erectile dysfunction (ED). Some older blood pressure medications, especially beta blockers and thiazide diuretics, are the most likely to cause ED as a side effect. Better options include calcium channel blockers, which lower high blood pressure through a different mechanism. Don't just go off your medications, though; high blood pressure itself is a common cause of ED, so lowering your blood pressure is an important part of your ED treatment plan. And if you stop taking your blood pressure medications 'cold turkey', your blood pressure could actually sky rocket, putting you at risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Work with your doctor on ways to lower your blood pressure without lowering your sex drive.
The drugs you take to lower your blood pressure may earn you lower marks in the bedroom, by leading to a bout of erectile dysfunction (ED), or the inability to get or maintain an erection during sex. High blood pressure medications such as beta blockers and diuretics do their life-saving job by lessening blood flow to your vital organs—and that includes down under. Less blood flow means no erection. The good news for guys is that not all high blood pressure medication cause ED. Talk with your doctor about switching to the ones that don't.
Co-authors Stacy Mandras, M.D., Patricia Uber, Pharm. D., and Mandeep Mehra, M.D., conducted systematic independent literature searches using the MEDLINE database and examined a broad range of medical research that focused on chronic heart failure, sexual activity and sexual dysfunction. This literature included data from patient surveys and clinical trials.
There are so many potential reasons a man might develop erectile dysfunction (ED), it's nearly impossible to generalize the best ways to treat it. What works for one man may not work for another simply because they are having problems for different reasons. That said, it may encouraging to hear that there are a variety of options that may be considered, from psychological counseling to lifestyle changes, medications to treatments and devices.
Beta-blockers: A popular blood pressure medication that affects part of the nervous system in an attempt to slow and regulate heartbeats, helping reduce blood pressure. Unfortunately, this same part of the nervous system is also responsible for causing erections, and when beta blockers are used, it indirectly reduces the amount of blood flow to the penis.
Despite physician’s inexperience and patient’s reluctance to disclose sexual dysfunction problems, attempts to estimate the magnitude of this clinical condition have predicted that over 150 million men worldwide experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. Several studies have demonstrated a wide range regarding the prevalence of erectile dysfunction, which is even higher in patients with essential hypertension where the relative risk is approximately two times higher than in normotensive individuals[6-11]. The etiology can be found in the structural and functional abnormalities of the penile arteries induced by high blood pressure. Smooth muscle hypertrophy, stenotic lesions due to atherosclerosis and impaired blood flow are among the prominent structural alterations whereas endothelial dysfunction and the defective nitric oxide-induced vasodilatory mechanism belong to the main functional abnormalities induced by increased blood pressure[12,13]. As a matter of fact, sexual dysfunction is encountered more frequently that it is indeed believed underlining the need for a more proper and concrete assessment.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phase 2 and 3 trials reported minimal associated cardiac adverse effects, which occurred in 3% of patients taking sildenafil and in 3.5% of patients receiving placebos.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References More recently, researchers have recognized that climbing stairs does not correlate closely with sexual activity in terms of autonomic, psychological, and emotional patterns of stress on the body.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
A medical history focused on risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and endocrine problems including hypothyroidism, low testosterone levels, and hyperprolactinemia, is very important. Commonly used drugs that disrupt male sexual function are spironolactone (Aldactone), sympathetic blockers such as clonidine (Catapres), guanethidine (Islemin), methyldopa (Aldomet), thiazide diuretics, most antidepressants, ketoconazole (Nizoral), cimetidine (Tagamet), alcohol, methadone, heroin, and cocaine. Finally, assessment of psychiatric history will help identify emotional issues such as interpersonal conflict, performance anxiety, depression, or anxiety.
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
A number of drugs are known to cause ED in patients with DM (Table 1). For example, many EDDM patients are on antihypertensive medications. Replacement of thiazides or beta-blockers with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers may be sufficient to regain erectile ability.5 Furthermore, discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, if these drugs are not essential for patient well-being, may be therapeutic. Careful monitoring following drug discontinuation will help to determine if ED is due to the medication or other underlying disorders. The benefits of continued drug therapy with these drugs should always be weighed against the likelihood of causing ED and impacting on the patient's QOL.
Nonsustained erection with detumescence after penetration is most commonly caused by anxiety or the vascular steel syndrome. In the vascular steel syndrome, blood is diverted from the engorged corpora cavernosae to accommodate the oxygen requirements of the thrusting pelvis. Questions should be asked regarding the presence or absence of nocturnal or morning erections and the ability to masturbate. Complete loss of nocturnal erections and the ability to masturbate are signs of neurological or vascular disease. It is important to remember that sexual desire is not lost with ED—only the ability to act on those emotions.
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.
• 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.
×