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.


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
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.”
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.
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.
Cardiovascular disease remains our nation’s biggest killer, responsible for about one-third of deaths in the U.S.1 Erectile dysfunction (ED) is typically the first clinical manifestation of cardiovascular disease, making it a helpful early marker for men who are likely to die of heart attacks. There is a strong relationship between erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, heart attack and a premature death.2, 3
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Early work in this field, performed by Masters and Johnson in 1966, involved evaluation of young patients in a laboratory setting and found that heart rates and systolic blood pressure levels during sexual activity approached levels seen during maximal exercise.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
Low testosterone represents another link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. A man’s testosterone levels gradually diminish beginning at age 30. By the time he reaches his 70s, testosterone levels may have dropped to a tenth of youthful levels. Diminishing testosterone levels contribute to loss of muscle, increased body fat, and reduced libido. Fatigue is common, as is depression. Low testosterone levels can also result in reduced concentration, irritability, passivity, loss of interest in activities, and even hypochondria.
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ED almost always has an organic or mixed etiology in diabetic men. This often results in diabetic men reporting more severe ED when they present for treatment of this condition. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that diabetic men's responses to standard therapy for ED differ from those of the general population of men with ED.38 We, therefore, will now briefly review the literature regarding effectiveness of various ED therapies specifically in diabetic men.
Viagra, Cialis, Levita, and Staxyn all work in a similar fashion and make it physically possible to get an erection when aroused. However, men whose blood pressure is poorly controlled and who take alpha-blockers for high blood pressure treatment should not take any of these treatments for erectile dysfunction as it may reduce blood pressure to critically low levels, causing fainting or sudden death. Also, you may be prohibited to use these drugs if you demonstrate any of the following:
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