How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
If you can't take one of these oral medications, your physician may have you try Caverject (alprostadil for injection), a hormone that you inject into your penis using a fine needle, or Muse (alprostadil urogenital), a tiny suppository that you insert into the tip of the penis. Both of these will bring on an erection within five to 15 minutes without sexual stimulation.
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.

Medications used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, especially antihypertensive medications, have been implicated frequently in the development of sexual dysfunction. A study of 5485 patients in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program found that, during a 5-year period, 8.3% of male hypertensive patients stopped taking their antihypertensive medications secondary to sexual adverse effects.35x35Curb, JD, Borhani, NO, Blaszkowski, TP, Zimbaldi, N, Fotiu, S, and Williams, W. Long-term surveillance for adverse effects of antihypertensive drugs. JAMA. 1985; 253: 3263–3268
DHEA. Testosterone is essential for a healthy libido and normal sexual function, and erectile dysfunction sufferers known to have low testosterone improve when placed on prescription testosterone replacement therapy. Similarly, studies have shown that taking over-the-counter supplements containing DHEA, a hormone that the body converts to testosterone and estrogen, can help alleviate some cases of ED. But DHEA can cause problems, including suppression of pituitary function, acne, hair loss and its long-term safety is unknown, says McCullough. For this reason, many experts discourage use of the supplements.

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.


The causes of ED are numerous but generally fall into two categories: organic or psychogenic. The organic causes can be subdivied into five categories: vascular, traumatic/postsurgical, neurological, endocrine-induced, and drug-induced. Examples of the psychogenic causes are depression, performance anxiety, and relationship problems. In people with diabetes, the main risk factors are neuropathy, vascular insufficiency, poor glycemic control, hypertension, low testosterone levels, and possibly a history of smoking.
Logically, ED secondary to testosterone deficiency should be treated by testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels in men decrease with age.4 Both epidemiological and observational studies have demonstrated that reduced testosterone is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. One meta-analysis showed lower testosterone and higher 17β oestradiol as significant risk predictors despite adjustment for age and body mass index.4 Patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) have been found to have lower testosterone levels than controls, and there is inverse correlation between testosterone and the incidence of major cardiovascular disease (CVD).4 A significant negative correlation has been reported between total testosterone levels and Framingham risk score.4 However, it has been pointed out that ‘It is unclear if this is a causal association or due to low testosterone being a biomarker of poor health’.4 Testosterone replacement as a treatment for …

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References When used in combination with NO-donor medications such as nitroglycerin, the modest blood pressure effects of sildenafil are potentiated, resulting in a significant decrease in systolic (21-55 mm Hg) and diastolic (up to 26 mm Hg) blood pressure levels, as well as vasodilatory symptoms such as headache, light-headedness, and nausea.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N


Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.
Having chronically high blood pressure can affect overall satisfaction with sex and affect men’s ability to achieve a firm erection. Due to constant vessel damage as a result of high blood pressure, linings of the arteries begin to harden and narrow, a process called atherosclerosis. Because blood flow is limited to the affected regions of the body, arterial blood circulation to various organs—including the heart muscles, brain, and even the groin—can be compromised, with myocardial infarctions, strokes, and erectile difficulty being common in hypertensive patients. Studies show that approximately 30 percent of hypertensive patients reported having erectile dysfunction, and approximately 49 percent of men aged 40 to 79 had both high blood pressure and ED.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (165) | Google ScholarSee all References Typically, the response to sexual activity is no more than an increase in heart rate to 130 beats/min and an increase in systolic blood pressure level to 170 mm Hg.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
In an open-label study, 8 patients monitored with a Swan-Ganz catheter were given a total of 40 mg of sildenafil in 4 intravenous transfusions (the equivalent of 1 to 3 times the plasma concentration after an oral dose of 100 mg).62x62Jackson, G, Benjamin, N, Jackson, N, and Allen, MJ. Effects of sildenafil citrate on human hemodynamics. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 13C–20C

"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 (71) | Google ScholarSee all References However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 22 middle-aged men with hypercholesterolemia treated for 6 weeks with pravastatin or lovastatin showed improved erectile function with both medications.54x54Kostis, JB, Rosen, RC, and Wilson, AC. Central nervous system effects of HMG CoA reductase inhibitors: lovastatin and pravastatin on sleep and cognitive performance in patients with hypercholesterolemia. J Clin Pharmacol. 1994; 34: 989–996
Feeling fatigued, very stressed, depressed or dealing with another mood-related issue that can lower libido. Sources of stress and diminished quality of life — such as “deteriorating economic position,” unhappiness with one’s job or other aspects that lower emotional health — are believed to be major causes for sexual dysfunction in both men and women
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References A dose-related phenomenon with propranolol use was suggested by another study, which showed that patients receiving propranolol dosages exceeding 120 mg/d developed ED at a higher rate than patients who received lower dosages of the same medication.43x43Warren, SC and Warren, SG. Propranolol and sexual impotence [letter]. Ann Intern Med. 1977; 86: 112
Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to attain or maintain a penile erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. Cases of ED may be classified as predominantly organic in nature, predominantly psychogenic, or mixed. Usual organic aetiologies are vasculogenic, hormonal, and neurogenic. Owing to the relationship of vasculogenic ED with CVD, it is important to distinguish men with predominantly vasculogenic ED from those with predominantly psychogenic ED or non-vasculogenic organic ED.

“The presence of erectile dysfunction portends a higher risk of future cardiovascular events, particularly in intermediate-risk men, and may serve as an opportunity for intensification of cardiovascular risk prevention strategies,” wrote Boston University heart specialists Naomi Hamburg, MD and Matt Kluge, MD, in an accompanying editorial. “The findings add to the growing evidence supporting additional trials to determine the clinical impact of erectile dysfunction screening and the appropriate cardiovascular directed evaluation and treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.”
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
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]
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

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).
Erectile dysfunction is an accurate predictor of heart attacks and strokes in the future. Psychogenic components play a role in erectile dysfunction, but the most common and primary cause in most men is organic vascular insufficiency, meaning not enough blood gets to the penis. Erectile dysfunction usually occurs one to five years before a male manifests overt signs of cardiovascular disease. The first sign may be death.
The medicine causes blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow in the body and to the penis, thus helping patients to get an erection. Invasive surgeries that involve rods and balloons are also available to patients suffering from ED. While these treatments often come with potential side effects, discomfort and a financial burden, some ED patients may see success with them.

Causes of ED may be of primary developmental origin or secondary. Lack of sex hormone in the early developmental stage of male children is the major cause of primary ED. The secondary cause of ED involves arteriosclerosis, diabetes or psychogenic disturbances. Other secondary factors may include hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, obesity and tobacco use. The primary causes of ED are beyond the scope of this review; we will not be discussing the neurovascular mechanisms pertaining to ED and will focus on the relationship between IHD and ED.
Some research even suggests the effect of blood pressure drugs may be more psychological than physical. When ED occurs after a man begins to take a new medication, it's possible that anxiety about his health, rather than the medication, may trigger the problem. And being aware of possible side effects may make a man more likely to recognize them as abnormal.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References This prolonged excretion half-life produces enhanced erections up to 36 hours after oral dosing, thereby potentially allowing for more spontaneous engagement of intercourse. The efficacy of tadalafil in the treatment of ED has been proved in randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.78x78Porst, H, Padma-Nathan, H, Giuliano, F, Anglin, G, Varanese, L, and Rosen, R. Efficacy of tadalafil for the treatment of erectile dysfunction at 24 and 36 hours after dosing: a randomized controlled trial. Urology. 2003; 62: 121–125
The wide range of prevalence rates noted among the studies can be attributed to a number of factors. First, prevalence rates are affected by the sensitivity and specificity of methods used to assess ED.1 In addition, a number of these studies used medical record review to identify patients with ED, as opposed to anonymous patient reports. It has been shown in other disease states that patients tend to underreport ED when questioned directly by their providers.3 Therefore, the use of validated questionnaires that are either self-administered in an anonymous, neutral setting or administered by an objective third-party interviewer are preferred.
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
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.
Both erectile dysfunction and heart disease have been linked with impaired activity of nitric oxide, the body’s most powerful vasodilator. An endogenous (produced by the body) compound called asymmetric dimethylarginine is an L-arginine analog, which interferes with the production of nitric oxide and may increase the risk for erectile dysfunction and heart disease.
Penile prosthesis implant remains the most effective and permanent treatment for ED. Penile prosthesis implants can be broadly divided into malleable and inflatable prostheses (20). Malleable penile prosthesis, also known as semi-rigid prosthesis, does not allow for (physiological) flaccid state of the penis. The patient can bend the prosthesis upwards for sexual intercourse and downwards for concealment. Although the angle of prosthesis concealment has improved with recent devices, however due to the constant rigid state of the penis, they are still less comfortable compared to their inflatable counterparts, are more likely to cause social embarrassment and associated with higher risk of implant erosions (21). However, malleable prosthesis still has its place for the treatment of ED as these implants are easier to handle, easier to place and would benefit patients with impaired manual dexterity.
Even if you do not take blood pressure drugs, you should get your blood pressure checked as high BP also can be a sign of ED. In fact, men with ED are about 38% more likely to have high blood pressure than those without ED, according to a study that examined the medical records of more than 1.9 million men. That is not too surprising, since ED often occurs in men who smoke or are overweight—both of which are common risk factors for high blood pressure.

• 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.
×