Erectile dysfunction (ED) is generally defined as the persistent (at least 6 months) inability to achieve and maintain penile erection sufficient to allow satisfactory sexual performance.1 It is a common condition, and recent studies predict a higher prevalence of ED in the future.2 It is estimated that ED has affected more than 150 million men worldwide and this number will reach approximately 322 million by 2025.2,3 It has affected 30 million men in the US alone.4
Sexual dysfunction refers to a problem during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevents the individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from the sexual activity. The sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Sexual dysfunction can be caused by physical and emotional factors, or a combination of both. The side effects of some medications also can lead to sexual dysfunction.
As a primary care doctor, my most important job is to tailor treatment for my patients while still making decisions based on the medical literature. So when patients tell me their treatment is causing undesired side effects—like ED—I work with them to create a plan to treat the condition while also finding a way to relieve those side effects. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with medically induced ED.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, affecting almost 40% of men over 40 years of age (with varying degrees of severity) and increases in frequency with age.1 Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease (CVD) share common risk factors including age, hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, insulin resistance and diabetes, smoking, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sedentary lifestyle, and depression.2 Cardiovascular disease and ED also share a common pathophysiological basis of aetiology and progression.3 Numerous studies have established that ED (i) is frequent in men with established CVD, (ii) co-exists with occult coronary artery disease (CAD) and (iii) is an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular (CV) events both in men with established CVD and in men with no known CVD.2,4,5 In the latter group, ED precedes CAD, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease by a significant period that usually ranges from 2 to 5 years (average 3 years).2 Although the ED patient can be managed by various medical specialties, and preferably a collaborative approach is most effective, this review is oriented to the cardiologist. While this review deals exclusively with sexual health of men, female sexual health and its potential relation with CVD is also an interesting, yet underexplored, field. As in men, moderating common risk factors seems to improve female sexual health and may serve as an opportunity to decrease CVD risk, with the identification of sexual dysfunction being the starting point.6
Although DM patients often correctly assume that their ED is of organic origin, a psychogenic component should be considered, especially in the younger patient. If this is the case, the patient may benefit from psychosocial therapy that includes anxiety reduction and desensitization, cognitivebehavioral intervention, sexual stimulation techniques, and interpersonal assertiveness with couples communication training.6 Not all healthcare providers offer these options. Freudian-based psychotherapy for EDDM has not been proved to be efficacious.
The use of shock wave therapy has revolutionized the treatment of many aspects of medicine. High intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy has been used for the treatment of nephro-urolithiasis while medium intensity shockwave therapy is used by orthopaedic surgeons to treat joint pain as well as tendinitis. Low intensity shockwaves therapy was first noted to improve ischaemia-induced myocardial dysfunction in animal studies when low intensity shockwaves were applied to porcine myocardium (13). Shockwaves induces a localized stress on cell membranes in the same way that shear stress affects endothelial cell membranes (14) and this triggers the release of angiogenic factors, such as increased NO production through increased activity of endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) and neuronal NO synthase (nNOS), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) (15). These shockwaves also cause membrane hyperpolarization (16), activation of the Ras signaling pathway, non-enzymatic synthesis of NO and induction of stress fibers and intercellular gaps (17).

Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Erectile dysfunction means you cannot have an erection that is sufficient to perform sexual intercourse. Many men experience short-term episodes of erectile dysfunction but, for about one in 10 men, the problem may continue.


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
Yohimbe A number of clinical trials have shown that the primary component of this bark from an African tree can improve sexual dysfunction associated with selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression. This herb has been linked to a number of side effects, including increased blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeat, and anxiety. Yohimbe shouldn't be used without a doctor's supervision.
Erectile dysfunction supplements and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and avanafil (Stendra), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well-studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.
Montorsi P,  Ravagnani PM,  Galli S,  Rotatori F,  Veglia F,  Briganti A,  Salonia A,  Dehò F,  Rigatti P,  Montorsi F,  Fiorentini C. Association between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease. Role of coronary clinical presentation and extent of coronary vessels involvement: the COBRA trial, Eur Heart J , 2006, vol. 27 (pg. 2632-2639)https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehl142

Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), elevations in blood lipids or cholesterol are considered blood vessel problems and have all been associated with Erectile Dysfunction. The blood vessel abnormalities caused by these diseases affect vessels throughout the body and often produce other symptoms of vascular diseases. Diabetics and patients with hypertension frequently have heart disease. These conditions typically interfere with the ability of the penile vessels to work properly and ultimately cause ED.
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (49) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, cigar smoking and passive exposure to cigarette smoke have been shown to significantly predict onset 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
“If a diabetic patient has erectile dysfunction, it’s not enough to provide Viagra [sildenafil] or Cialis [tadalafil] and then send him on his merry way,” J. Francois Eid, MD, a New York City urologist, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It’s important to let individuals know the drug has not cured the erectile dysfunction. If patients don’t take care of the diabetes, the erectile dysfunction progresses.”
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 many alternative treatments that may be used to treat erectile dysfunction, although their effectiveness hasn't been proven. Men may benefit from acupuncture to reduce stress and help treat erectile dysfunction. Some people claim that herbal supplements such as Korean red ginseng, ginkgo, and yohimbine may be helpful for treating erectile dysfunction. Other helpful supplements for treating erectile dysfunction may include DHEA (a hormone in testosterone) and L-arginine. However, it's important to remember that these and other supplements may actually contain harmful substances, so talk with your doctor before taking supplements for treating erectile dysfunction.

The body’s source for nitric oxide production is the amino acid L-arginine, which is naturally found in many foods. The average American ingests about 3,000–5,000 mg of L-arginine per day, as it is an amino acid naturally contained in many foods. Meats of all varieties, nuts, and dairy products are rich in L-arginine, so the body is accustomed to intake levels of several thousand milligrams every day.
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.
ED is a common complication of diabetes and people with diabetes are also prone to developing cardiovascular complications.48 The risk of ED is relatively high in patients with known CVD. This was supported by a study of men with known CVD, in which ED was substantially predictive of all-cause mortality and the composite of CVD death, admission for heart failure, MI and stroke.17 Macroangiopathy, microangiopathy and endothelial dysfunction are among the mechanisms by which diabetes causes ED.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is when a man has difficulty getting or maintaining a strong enough erection for sexual intercourse or other sexual activity. It can be caused by stress, anxiety or excessive alcohol consumption. But it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), diabetes or high blood pressure. Some medications can cause erectile dysfunction, for example beta-blockers and diuretics (commonly used to treat a variety of heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure and heart failure).
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
To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.
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
Ginkgo is an herb that’s been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments. This supplement may improve penile blood flow. Additionally, some reports suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk. This makes it particularly dangerous for people using blood thinners. Other studies, including one from 2011, found no evidence of increased bleeding while using ginkgo.
4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Erectile dysfunction (updated Nov 2015). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/erectile-dysfunction/Pages/facts.aspx (accessed Nov 2016). myDr myDr provides comprehensive Australian health and medical information, images and tools covering symptoms, diseases, tests, medicines and treatments, and nutrition and fitness.Related ArticlesImpotence causesFind out the physical and psychological causes of impotence, also called erectile dysfunction or ED.Erectile dysfunction: visiting your doctorFind out what questions a doctor may ask when discussing erectile dysfunction (ED, or impotence8 Surprising causes of erectile dysfunctionOccasional erectile dysfunction is not uncommon, but if it's persistent, erectile dysfunction caAdvertisement
Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.

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
A disruption anywhere along the complex chain of events will impair the capacity to have an erection. Any man who has experienced the frustration of male impotence knows that the consequences extend beyond physical dissatisfaction to anxiety, tension, and embarrassment. A common reason for failure of the erectile apparatus is disruption of the path leading to nitric oxide production and blood flow control.
Another study showed a forty percent increase of blood flow to the heart within one year of starting a dietary program designed similar to the one described in my book, The End of Heart Disease. Of pertinent note is that, in the same study, the patients following a high-protein Atkins’ diet decreased blood flow to the heart by forty percent in one year.8 These dangerous high-protein diets are a certain path to erectile impotence and a premature cardiac death.
Consider this:  penicillin, the first successful antibiotic, was derived from molds that inhibit bacterial growth.  Scientists had to figure out why the molds slowed bacteria, and refine the active ingredients.  Using herbal supplements is somewhat like putting mold on a wound.  It might help, a little, but it’s certainly not going to help as much as using penicillin.
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.

The development of PDE5-inhibitors is a clear example of how Western medicine approached the problem of ED differently from Eastern medicine. The erectogenic effect of sildenafil (Viagra®) was discovered by accident when patients undergoing heart clinical trials reported better erections as a side effect after taking sildenafil. This observation led to further elucidation of the NO/cGMP signalling pathway and development of PDE5-inhibitors as a first-line therapy in ED (5).
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, patients with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy and idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis are at increased risk of syncope and sudden death after exercise.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
People sometimes refer to ED as "impotence," although the two aren't really the same condition. ED is the physical inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough for sex. Impotence is a broader term. While one cause of it is ED, impotence may also involve a lack of sexual desire, an inability to ejaculate, or problems with orgasm.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (72) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that the mean PSV was a better predictor of the presence of cardiovascular disease than stratification by standard cardiac risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, and smoking. The researchers recommended that persons with no history of prior perineal trauma and with a PSV lower than 35 mL/s should undergo exercise testing before receiving treatment of ED because these patients had a 42% risk of having ischemic heart disease. However, other investigators questioned the utility of using penile arterial flow to predict the presence of ischemic heart disease.18x18Chiu, AW, Chen, KK, Chen, MT, Chang, LS, and Chang, MS. Penile brachial index in impotent patients with coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 1991; 19: 213–216

The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.

There are few data specifically relating to the effectiveness of vacuum erection devices (VEDs) in diabetic men with ED. In a single-center study of 44 men with diabetes who choose VED for the treatment of ED in the early 1990s, 75% reported that they were able to achieve erections satisfactory for intercourse with the use of the device.51 However, the manner in which patients were accrued to this study probably biased its findings, resulting in substantially higher effectiveness rates than are normally observed in clinical practice. A recent review of the use of VEDs in the general treatment of ED notes that satisfaction rates with this therapy are much lower, varying between 20 and 50%.52
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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