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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Additionally, the presence of nephropathy has been correlated with onset of ED, as has the length of time the patient has had diabetes; most of these patients experience ED within 10 years of being diagnosed as having insulin-dependent or non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.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
Diuretics: Diuretics are also referred to as water pills. They can make the flow of blood to your penis less intense. This makes getting an erection difficult. Diuretics are also known to lower zinc levels, which can decrease the amount of testosterone your body makes. In turn, this can decrease your sex drive. It may also affect your muscle contraction.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Diabetes was found to play a major role in vasculogenic impotence in a study of 265 patients with ED who underwent color duplex ultrasonography of the cavernosal arteries after intracavernosal injection of prostaglandin E1.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430

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.
The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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
If you have several atherosclerotic risk factors or symptoms of heart disease, your doctor might do additional tests to look for atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. A stress test involves monitoring the heart with an electrocardiogram or images before and after exercise. An angiogram, or cardiac catheterization, involves entering a blood vessel in the leg or wrist to pass instruments into the heart to directly visualize the coronary arteries. During this procedure, atherosclerosis can be treated by inflating a balloon or placing a metal stent in the coronary blood vessel to keep it open. If you and your doctor begin a treatment plan to prevent atherosclerosis at the first sign of ED, then you may significantly delay or prevent the need for these more invasive procedures.
A sexually competent male must have a series of events occur and multiple mechanisms intact for normal erectile function. He must 1) have desire for his sexual partner (libido), 2) be able to divert blood from the iliac artery into the corpora cavernosae to achieve penile tumescence and rigidity (erection) adequate for penetration, 3) discharge sperm and prostatic/seminal fluid through his urethra (ejaculation), and 4) experience a sense of pleasure (orgasm). A man is considered to have ED if he cannot achieve or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity for sexual intercourse. Most men, at one time or another during their life, experience periodic or isolated sexual failures. However, the term “impotent” is reserved for those men who experience erectile failure during attempted intercourse more than 75% of the time.
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.
PDE-5 inhibitors amplify the intacavernosal production of cGMP in response to nitric oxide. This is achieved through the inhibition of cGMP's breakdown by the enzyme, PDE-5. If the predominant abnormality in the individual EDDM patient is molecular, the higher tissue levels of cGMP will overcome these inhibitory factors and the patient will regain erectile function. If the physical structure (eg, the compliance) of the cavernosal tissue has been significantly compromised by apoptosis of smooth muscle or increased collagen deposits, restoration of erectile function will not be achieved. These structural changes explain the lower efficacy rates of PDE-5 inhibitors in EDDM than in the general population.
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.
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!
Erectile dysfunction carries an independent risk for cardiovascular events. A considerable number of studies have examined the ability of ED to predict the risk of future fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, revascularization) and total mortality in the general population and in high CV risk patients, in diabetics and in heart failure patients.5,19–22 In a meta-analysis of 14 prospective cohort studies involving 92 757 men followed for a mean period of 6.1 years (Figure 4), ED increased significantly and independently of traditional risk factors the risk of CV events, CV mortality, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular events, and all-cause mortality by 44, 19, 62, 39, and 25% respectively.5 This predictive ability also extends in men with known CVD: ED increased the risk of all-cause mortality by 90%.5 Of importance, the predictive ability of ED is higher in younger ED patients5 despite the fact that probability of ED increases with age, most likely identifying a group of patients with early and aggressive vascular disease.23 Clinical implementation of ED as a biomarker relies on whether its addition on classical risk scores such as the Systematic COronary Risk Evaluation (SCORE) or the Framingham correctly reclassifies a meaningful percentage of patients into a higher or lower risk category. To this end, data are limited. Yet, in a population-based study of men 40–70 years of age, the addition of the ED status to the Framingham risk score resulted in a reclassification of 6.4% of low-risk patients to intermediate risk.19
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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.
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
Hypertension can affect endothelial function in many ways. It can reduce endothelium-dependent vasodilatation by increasing the vasoconstrictor tone as a result of increased peripheral sympathetic activity.41–43 Another mechanism is hypertension-induced increase in cyclooxygenase activity that leads to an increase in reactive oxygen species; these in turn damage endothelial cells and disrupt their function.44–46 In some cases, endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) gene variations may relate to hypertension-associated endothelial dysfunction.6

Gazzaruso C,  Solerte SB,  Pujia A,  Coppola A,  Vezzoli M,  Salvucci F,  Valenti C,  Giustina A,  Garzaniti A. Erectile dysfunction as a predictor of cardiovascular events and death in diabetic patients with angiographically proven asymptomatic coronary artery disease: a potential protective role for statins and 5-phosphodiesterase inhibitors, J Am Coll Cardiol , 2008, vol. 51 (pg. 2040-2044)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2007.10.069


The vascular endothelium has an important role in angiogenesis and vascular repair by producing regulatory substances, including NO, prostaglandin, endothelins, prostacyclin and angiotensin II. These regulatory factors regulate the blood flow to the penis by controlling smooth muscle contractility and subsequent vasoconstriction and vasodilatation. Generally, in erectile tissue, increased blood flow through the cavernosal artery increases shear stress and produces NO, which further relaxes the vascular smooth muscles and increases blood flow in the corpora cavernosa.54 These events cause penile erection. However, in ED, endothelial NO synthesis is reduced and there is increased endothelial cell death (Figure 2).55
Since erectile dysfunction presents such an intimate relationship with CV parameters, it is easily deducted that it could constitute a powerful tool for detecting asymptomatic CV disease. Consequently, recognition of sexual dysfunction in a hypertensive individual should prompt further diagnostic procedures and therapeutic interventions in order to disclose its silent cardiovascular risk and improve patient’s quality of life and life expectancy.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (171) | Google ScholarSee all References Incidence increased notably with age in this patient cohort: only 1.1% of diabetic men aged 21 to 30 years had ED compared with 47.1% of all diabetic patients older than 43 years. Diabetic patients often have other cardiovascular risk factors that may play a role in the development of ED. However, in an analysis of the PBI in 441 patients with ED and various cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use), diabetes was the only risk factor that was significantly and independently associated with a decrease in the PBI.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

Not surprisingly, they found that diabetic patients rated kidney disease and blindness as the two most important complications of their condition. Diabetic men with ED ranked ED as the third most important complication of diabetes, followed on average in order by foot ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraine headaches, sleeping disorders, and mild indigestion. Diabetic men without ED found ED slightly less important, ranking it behind foot ulcers and high blood pressure, although all three were grouped fairly close together (mean ranks were 4.59, 4.23, and 4.52, respectively). Interestingly, in men both with and without ED, subjects were willing to pay more per month to avoid ED than all other conditions except blindness and kidney disease (mean values for diabetic patients with ED were £50.5, £88.0, and £66.1, respectively). In summary, erectile function is important to diabetic men, and when ED is present, it has a significant negative effect on quality of life.


In a study by Segal et al. (11), 4 out of 5 healthy individuals were able to achieve tumescence beyond 60% maximum rigidity when subjected to PVS using the Viberect® alone, with no other external visual sexual stimulation. In a randomized controlled study by Fode et al. (12) involving 68 men who underwent nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, 30 men who received PVS to the frenulum daily for 6 weeks, using the Ferticare® vibrator, showed a trend towards better erections. After 1 year, 53% in the PVS group had an IIEF score ≥18 compared with 32% in the control group, although no statistical achievement was achieved. The role of PVS in penile rehabilitation is based on the postulation that PVS provides early activation of the parasympathetic erectile spinal centres at S2–S4 level, which result in early recovery of the neuropraxic cavernosal nerves.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (395) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is primarily responsible for the breakdown of cGMP in cavernosal tissues. The inhibition of PDE-5 by sildenafil therefore causes continued activation of the NO-cGMP pathway in the cavernosal tissue, thereby improving erectile function.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

The mechanisms of action by which antihypertensive medications cause ED are currently unknown. Some investigators have theorized that antihypertensive medications affect erectile function by decreasing blood pressure, which reduces the perfusion pressure needed to maintain sufficient blood flow for erections through atherosclerotic penile arteries.37x37Benet, AE and Melman, A. The epidemiology of erectile dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1995; 22: 699–709


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913
Powerful clinical and scientific experience suggests a close link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Studies like the Health Professionals Follow-up Study have revealed the risk factors for erectile dysfunction to be very similar to those for heart disease. Hypertension, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and physical inactivity all strongly predict sexual dysfunction in men, as they do heart disease.1
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Diabetes was found to play a major role in vasculogenic impotence in a study of 265 patients with ED who underwent color duplex ultrasonography of the cavernosal arteries after intracavernosal injection of prostaglandin E1.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430

Since time immemorial, TCM has been adopted by many cultures and is widely practiced in Asian countries despite paucity of level 1 clinical evidence and limited published safety records. TCM is more congruent with Asian values, beliefs and philosophical orientation to health, simple administration, readily available and ease of access or procurement, and general belief that TCM is safer. While Asian males are clearly different from their Western counterparts with respect to biology, culture and beliefs, the practice of TCM appears to be adopted by many Western nations lately. Many men seek TCM to avoid embarrassing visits to physicians and potential side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, or after becoming frustrated with the outcome of modern medicine. Patients are choosing to take more responsibility for their health by exploring a variety of non-pharmaceutical drugs and wellness practices. Furthermore, TCM such as herbal medicine does not address a specific organ system only and is meant to restore and realign the vital energy within the body, which is responsible for ageing, clinical diseases and the deterioration of bodily function; while in Western medicine, each pill is intended for a specific organ/system and that a patient may need a collection of pills to treat multiple comorbidities, rendering modern medicine less attractive to TCM.

Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
×