Cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction (ED) are closely interrelated disease processes. Erectile dysfunction reportedly affects 10 million to 20 million men in the United States and more than 100 million men worldwide. Each year, about 500,000 persons in the United States survive a myocardial infarction, and an estimated 11 million have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients. We explore the relationship between ED and the presence of cardiovascular disease in the general population. We also review the prevalence and pathophysiological associations of ED and cardiovascular disease. The risks of sexual activity for patients with cardiovascular disease are discussed, as are prevention and treatment strategies for ED in this patient population.

Hyperlipidemia has been implicated in the development of ED by several different mechanisms. Hyperlipidemia is associated with development of atherosclerotic blood vessel disease, thus contributing to vasculogenic impotence. Penile vascular changes have been noted in impotent patients with elevated serum lipids.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 (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
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]
Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.
Organic nitrates are drugs that widen arteries by increasing their supply of nitric oxide; that's how they open the partially blocked coronary arteries in patients with angina. But because nitrates and ED pills both act on nitric oxide, the drugs don't mix; healthy volunteers given Viagra followed an hour later by nitroglycerin see their blood pressures drop by 25–51 mm Hg, a potentially dangerous amount. All experts agree that men who are taking nitrates cannot use ED pills; this includes all preparations of nitroglycerin (short-acting, under-the-tongue tablets or sprays), long-acting nitrates (isosorbide dinitrate or Isordil, Sorbitrate, and others, and isosorbide mononitrate, Imdur, ISMO, and others), nitroglycerin patches and pastes, and amyl nitrite or amyl nitrate (so-called poppers, which some men use for sexual stimulation).

Relaxation of erectile tissue requires nitric oxide from nonadrenergic-noncholinergic neurons and the endothelium.21 Penile tissue from diabetic men with ED demonstrates impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of smooth muscle,22 increased accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs),23 and upregulation arginase, a competitor with nitric oxide synthase for its substrate L-arginine.24 Normal responses to direct smooth muscle relaxants in most of these studies implies that the impairments are due to decreased synthesis, release, or activity of nitric oxide. The fundamental mechanisms mediating these changes are thought to be the same as for other diabetic complications: increased polyol pathway flux, intracellular accumulation of AGEs, activation of protein kinase C, and increased flux through the hexosamine pathway.25
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (443) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin and other NO donors work through the same NO-cGMP pathway that sildenafil affects, thereby decreasing vascular resistance and blood pressure level.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.

The prevalence of erectile dysfunction is approximately 2-fold higher in hypertensive patients compared to normotensive individuals. However, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients. Hypertension per se and antihypertensive drug therapy may contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction in patients with arterial hypertension. The management of erectile dysfunction in hypertensive patients is tricky and should take into account the different effects of antihypertensive drug categories on erectile function. Lifestyle modification should be the mainstay of treating erectile dysfunction in patients with untreated hypertension. Switching antihypertensive therapy should be considered in treated hypertensive patients, unless administered drugs are absolutely indicated for the individual patient. Otherwise, PDE-5 inhibitors should be used, since they are both effective and safe in hypertensive patients. Finally, erectile dysfunction offers the opportunity to recognize asymptomatic cardiovascular disease and better characterize the relevant risk with obvious benefits for cardiovascular disease prevention.
Research is mixed on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an erectile dysfunction cure, but one study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

The discovery in 1992 of the second messenger of cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation was the critical step that led to the era of nonhormonal oral drug therapy for ED. In 1998, the multicenter trial of sildenafil in the treatment of ED was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the era of the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitor began.1 For 5 years, sildenafil was the primary therapy for men with EDDM. Recently, 2 new PDE-5 inhibitors, vardenafil and tadalafil, were introduced.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References However, other studies have noted that, when blood pressure levels are monitored after initiation of antihypertensive therapy, changes in blood pressure level are not correlated with sexual function.38x38Rosen, RC, Kostis, JB, Jekelis, A, and Taska, LS. Sexual sequelae of antihypertensive drugs: treatment effects on self-report and physiological measures in middle-aged male hypertensives. Arch Sex Behav. 1994; 23: 135–152

Eastern medicine should be fully exploited, and integrated with modern medicine to combine the advantages of both TCM and Western medicine. More research should be conducted into the efficacy and safety of TCM, and integration of TCM and Western medicine may provide promising breakthroughs in future clinical treatment. This strategy may allow for the development of new therapeutic strategies based on concepts of TCM and integrated medicine. There is a need for multimodal therapy and holistic approach to treat men (and their partners) with ED through complementary use of herbal supplements and modern drug to optimize underlying medical comorbidities; acupuncture, exercise or massage to reduce stress and strengthen the body; introduction and escalation of various medical therapy with use of mechanical therapy to further enhance penile erection; and lastly surgical intervention in suboptimal or refractory ED cases.


Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought "enhanced penile tip rigidity." Experts aren't sure how ginseng might work, though it's thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. "I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED]," says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
A number of over-the-counter herbal supplements claim to treat ED. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you should avoid products labeled as “herbal Viagra.” These supplements can increase blood flow and cause dangerous drops in blood pressure. Risk may be particularly high for men who are using nitrates. Herbal Viagra can also interact with other prescription drugs. Herbal Viagra products may contain potentially toxic compounds that aren’t listed on the label.
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.

In the vessels that supply the heart, healthy arteries enlarge in diameter up to 50% during exercise when sufficient nitric oxide is present. Because of its brief half-life, a continual supply of nitric oxide is required for optimal effect. If the supply of nitric oxide is inadequate, endothelial dysfunction—a core factor in heart disease—is made worse. Endothelial dysfunction can trigger the growth of coronary plaque.8
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The treatment of ED using TCM ties in with the treatment of late-onset hypogonadism (LOH). LOH occurs due to the breakdown in coordination between the heart and the kidneys, deficiencies of the spleen and kidney (yang), deficiencies of the liver and kidney (yin) and deficiencies of the kidney (yin and yang). The endocrine function of the pituitary and gonads becomes disordered with age due to a depression of overall function. This results in accumulation of free radicals and other toxins that cannot be relieved solely with male hormone supplementation. Warm yang can energize kidneys to benefit the body, remove toxins, invigorate qi and promote blood circulation. Free radicals are removed, blood fat regulated, cardio-cerebral blood flow improved and again the key here is to improve the function of the digestive, respiratory and endocrine systems, hence regulating the body in every aspect holistically (28).

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References However, other studies have noted that, when blood pressure levels are monitored after initiation of antihypertensive therapy, changes in blood pressure level are not correlated with sexual function.38x38Rosen, RC, Kostis, JB, Jekelis, A, and Taska, LS. Sexual sequelae of antihypertensive drugs: treatment effects on self-report and physiological measures in middle-aged male hypertensives. Arch Sex Behav. 1994; 23: 135–152

• Blood Vessels: Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially the smallest blood vessels such as those in the penis. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and other circulatory problems. Proper blood flow is absolutely crucial to achieving erection. “Erection is a hydraulic phenomenon that occurs involuntarily,” says Arturo Rolla, MD, of Harvard University School of Medicine. “Nobody can will an erection!” Anything that limits or impairs blood flow can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection, no matter how strong one’s sexual desire.
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