The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
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
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or have already had a heart attack and are experiencing erectile dysfunction, it is critical that you discuss erectile dysfunction medication with your physician before considering taking it. Popular erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil) can interact with a range of cardiovascular disease medications. Interactions are possible with blood pressure medications; blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), nitrates for the treatment of chest pain, and antiarrhythmia medication for the treatment of irregular heart rhythms.
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
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References As with sildenafil, use of nitrate or NO-donor medications is contraindicated while taking tadalafil because of the potential for marked hypotensive interactions.74x74Gresser, U and Gleiter, CH. Erectile dysfunction: comparison of efficacy and side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil—review of the literature. Eur J Med Res. 2002; 7: 435–446
But closer questioning often revealed a very different story—men would admit that struggles to achieve an erection usually preceded a heart attack or other cardiac event by one, two, or three years. Back then, the pattern of erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease was so widespread, that most in the medical profession attributed it to simple “aging,” as common as wrinkles and constipation.
Relative risk and 95% confidence interval for erectile dysfunction and clinical events. Relative risk and 95% confidence interval for erectile dysfunction and total cardiovascular events (A), cardiovascular mortality (B), myocardial infarction (C), cerebrovascular events (D), and all-cause mortality (E). Studies are listed alphabetically. Boxes represent the relative risk and lines represent the 95% confidence interval for individual studies. The diamonds and their width represent the pooled relative risks and the 95% confidence interval, respectively. CVD, cardiovascular disease; DM, diabetes mellitus; HF, heart failure; GEN, general population. Numbers in brackets are the number of references in the text—and references with S are from Supplementary material online. With permission from Vlachopoulos et al.5
"The answer to the question, 'Can patients with heart disease safely have sex?' is almost always 'Yes,' unless they have such bad heart failure or severe artery disease that even a moderate amount of exertion will cause terrible chest pain," says Richard Stein, MD, who is director of preventive cardiology at New York City's Beth Israel Hospital. "And if that is the case, sex is probably the last thing on their minds anyway."
First of all, libido (sexual desire) triggers a sympathetic (adrenaline-dependent) nervous system reaction mediated through the thoracic spinal cord. Also important is tactile stimulation, the pleasurable effect of touch, which is mediated through the acetylcholine-dependent parasympathetic nervous system. Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic forces regulate the release of nitric oxide—the universal artery-relaxing agent—from the cells lining the penile arteries and all its smaller branches. Nitric oxide causes the arteries to enlarge, increasing blood flow into the penile tissues. This is followed by compression of blood-draining penile veins, which causes blood to engorge the penis and create an erection.4
In the past 6 years, the FDA has approved three oral agents for the treatment of ED: sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. All three are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors and work by potentiating the effect of nitric oxide in the penis. In particular, they block the hydrolysis of cyclic guanosine monophosphate to guanosine 5'-monophosphate, thus enhancing nitric oxide–mediated smooth muscle relaxation, increasing blood flow to the penis and facilitating erection.
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.
Nehra A,  Jackson G,  Miner M,  Billups KL,  Burnett AL,  Buvat J,  Carson CC,  Cunningham GR,  Ganz P,  Goldstein I,  Guay AT,  Hackett G,  Kloner RA,  Kostis J,  Montorsi P,  Ramsey M,  Rosen R,  Sadovsky R,  Seftel AD,  Shabsigh R,  Vlachopoulos C,  Wu FC. The Princeton III Consensus recommendations for the management of erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, Mayo Clin Proc , 2012, vol. 87 (pg. 766-778)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.06.015
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.
To date, there are no studies directly comparing the effectiveness of these three agents among diabetic men with ED, so it is impossible to state that one agent is superior to another in terms of effectiveness in diabetic patients. However, there are an number of studies that compare the individual agents to placebo in diabetic men with ED. For example, Boulton et al.41 completed a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of sildenafil in 219 men with ED and type 2 diabetes. They found that sildenafil resulted in a significant improvement in the ability to both achieve and maintain an erection adequate for sexual intercourse in men with type 2 diabetes. In a similar study, Rendell et al.42 randomized 268 diabetic men with ED to receive either sildenafil in a dose-escalation manner or placebo. At the conclusion of the 12-week study, 56% of the patients in the sildenafil arm reported improved erections, compared to 10% in the placebo arm (P < 0.001). Additionally, 61% of patients in the diabetic arm reported at least one successful attempt at sexual intercourse in the final month of the study, compared to 22% in the control arm (P < 0.001). Similar randomized studies have documented the effectiveness of both tadalafil43 and vardenafil44 in the treatment of diabetes-related ED.
Apart from their beneficial effect in erectile dysfunction and their safe profile in antihypertensive medication, PDE-5 inhibitors have even more advantages to demonstrate. Several lines of evidence has proven that patients receiving PDE-5 inhibitors are more likely to initiate an antihypertensive regime and more willing to add a new agent to their existing treatment, a fact that raises significantly patient’s adherence and as a matter of fact control of high blood pressure and quality of life[63,64]. Moreover, a handful of clinical data has demonstrated the considerable vasodilating and anti-proliferative properties of PDE-5 inhibitors in the pulmonary vasculature, establishing them as a first-line treatment in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension[65,66]. The same properties have been considered as potentially responsible for improving microcirculation in patients with secondary Raynaud phenomenon and ameliorating cardiopulmonary exercise performance in patients with heart failure[67,68]. In addition, the therapeutic implementation of PDE-5 inhibitors has expanded in the field of benign prostate hyperplasia-lower urinary tract symptoms (BPH-LUTS). The common pathophysiologic substrate between erectile dysfunction and BPH-LUTS has rendered PDE-5 inhibitors an effective treatment which significantly improves measures of both conditions while at the same time exhibits high efficacy and safety. The beneficial effect is much more pronounced when taking into consideration the fact that a-blockers, the mainstay of therapy for benign prostate hyperplasia frequently provoke sexual side effects, erectile dysfunction included[69].

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 (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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Rates of severe cardiovascular adverse effects were also similar at 1.7 per 1000 person-years of treatment with sildenafil compared with 1.0 events per 1000 personyears with placebo treatment.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

With great interest we have read the recently published review by Vlachopoulos et al, a very detailed and extensive overview of erectile dysfunction in the cardiovascular patients. Guidelines for the management of erectile dysfunction with heart failure were noted, as well as advice about dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED) in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, many others have written similar reviews and guideline concerning the care for ED as well as (female) sexual dysfunction in CAD in the past years (1-4), cardiologists should be familiar with this matter by now. The problem is the actual translation of this knowledge into actions in cardiologists' daily clinical practice. Our research group performed a survey among Dutch cardiologists, aiming to evaluate their inquiry about erectile function in day-to-day practice, to detect their attitude towards this discussion and their perceived barriers for addressing sexual activity. Results from this survey indicated that cardiologists (n=414) did not routinely discuss erectile dysfunction: 48.7% indicated to discuss sexual function 'sometimes' and only 16.9% said to discuss the subject regularly. Of respondents, 41.5% marked that care for patients' sexual quality of life is not their responsibility. Nevertheless, 42% indicated that they would benefit from training to obtain knowledge about treatment of erectile and sexual dysfunction in cardiologic patients. Barriers not to inquire about sexual activity included 'the patient does not ask about it' (53.7%), 'I do not have an angle or motive to start about it'(45.9%), as well as time constraints (42.9%) and lack of training in dealing with sexual dysfunction (35.2%). The more experienced the cardiologist was the less he/she stated the need for training or for a referral directory(5). Since all cardiologists should, meanwhile, know that ED is part of their responsibility, as it is a sentinel marker of CVD(6). It is now case to pay attention to the implementation of the care for erectile and other sexual dysfunction in the cardiology practice. Our study suggests that physicians' experience in the field plays an important role in discussing sexual activity and that sexual healthcare can be improved with more education about the subject. Furthermore a directory of the available healthcare professionals for the referral of patients with sexual dysfunction was indicated as mandatory. We suggest that attention of cardiologists should not only be focused on writing about ED and CVD, attention should be diverted to the actual implementation of care for patients with ED as well, in order to improve patient-centered healthcare in cardiology.
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.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Increased cGMP levels cause intracellular calcium levels to decrease, resulting in relaxation of the corporeal smooth muscle, active dilatation of the penile arteries, arterioles, and sinusoids, and finally, increased arterial inflow and passive compression of penile venous outflow.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Hemodynamic stress also may cause rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque resulting in angina, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
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
The EDDM patient has a variety of firstline options. The risk factors for vascular disease are the risk factors for ED. First-line therapy begins with attempts to minimize or eliminate these factors. These include smoking cessation, regular exercise, tighter glycemic control by attention to dietary restrictions, addition of statin drugs to correct dyslipidemia, and moderation of alcohol ingestion. Although there is very limited evidence that these modifications will dramatically reverse ED, they certainly will sponsor improved general health.4
The obvious risks are the same that accompany any surgery: infection, pain, bleeding, and scarring. If for some reason the prosthesis or parts become damaged or dislocated, surgical removal may be necessary. With a general success rate of about 90 percent, any of the devices will restore erections, but they will not affect sexual desire, ejaculation, or orgasm.
The drugs come in several strengths. Most men should start with a low to moderate dose. The dose can be adjusted depending on the results. Men with potential problems should always start with the lowest dose. Every man should avoid consuming alcohol before taking these drugs. Men who do not respond to a full dose on two or three different occasions should try other treatments.
Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of heart disease. An erection is caused by engorgement of blood into the penile tissues which later becomes rigid for penetration. Men with heart problem suffer from an inadequate blood flow to the smooth tissues of the penis to achieve erection. A major cardiovascular disease known as Atherosclerosis is a result of fat accumulation in the arterial blood vessels. This build up of multiple plaques or fatty material causes the arteries to narrow and harden thus limiting blood flow. The arteries supplying your penis are smaller than those supplying your heart. In fact, ED can be an initial symptom of heart diseases like Atherosclerosis. Cardiovascular problems can also damage penile nerves and arteries, inhibiting erectile function. Experts found a consistent link between ED and heart disease. Other recent research conducted by health professionals has shown a direct connection between erection dysfunctions and heart problems.

Diabetes mellitus is associated with both decreased erectile function and increased cardiovascular risk. The MMAS found that the age-adjusted probability of complete impotence was 3 times higher in patients with diabetes mellitus than in those without the disease.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)
The Epimedium plant is a flowering perennial found throughout Asia and parts of the Mediterranean. Horny Goat Weed’s active ingredient is icariin, a falvonol glycoside and reputed to improve cardiovascular function, hormone regulation, modulation of immunological function and antitumor activity (44). Icariin has also been shown to have a PDE5i effect. Animal studies have been carried out showing improvements in penile hemodynamic parameters. There is one report of tachyarrhythmia and hypomania with the use of this herb (45).
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Of 1774 patients with a history of myocardial infarction, only 2 who had experienced a myocardial infarction after sexual intercourse were able to exercise to at least 6 METs without symptoms.8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood gets deposited in arteries, the blood vessels that feed the heart and brain. These deposits can join with other substances to form plaque, a thick, hard deposit in the blood vessel that leads to atherosclerosis. Plaque can narrow the passageway inside the artery and pinch off the flow of blood to the heart muscle, and to the penis.

Co-authors Stacy Mandras, M.D., Patricia Uber, Pharm. D., and Mandeep Mehra, M.D., conducted systematic independent literature searches using the MEDLINE database and examined a broad range of medical research that focused on chronic heart failure, sexual activity and sexual dysfunction. This literature included data from patient surveys and clinical trials.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Hemodynamic stress also may cause rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque resulting in angina, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References The risk after sexual activity in these patients is unknown, although vasodilators should be avoided because they may increase the intraventricular gradient.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

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.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is highly prevalent affecting at least 50 % of men with diabetes mellitus (DM). DM may cause ED through a number of pathophysiological pathways. These include neuropathy, endothelial dysfunction, cavernosal smooth muscle structural/functional changes, and hormonal changes. Lifestyle changes, diabetes control, and treatment of hypogonadism are important as the first step in ED management since there is no curative treatment for ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) are the first-line treatment option. Intracavernous administration of vasoactive drugs is commonly used as a second-line medical treatment when PDE5i have failed. Alprostadil is the most widely used drug in this second-line setting. The combination of papaverine, phentolamine, and alprostadil represents the most efficacious intracavernous pharmacologic treatment option that may save non-responders to alprostadil. Penile prosthesis implantation can be considered in treatment refractory cases, with excellent functional and safety results in the properly informed patients.
Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors. The cornerstone of first-line therapy is the PDE-5 inhibitor. No other class of oral agents approaches the efficacy of PDE-5 inhibitors. Yohimbine, trazodone, phentolamine, L-arginine, and OTC herbal remedies have been used with very limited success. The superiority of yohimbine over placebo in the treatment of organic ED is a matter of dispute.9 A recent trazodone study failed to detect any difference between trazodone and placebo on sexual function.10 Oral phentolamine, although available in Mexico, has not been approved by the US FDA for the treatment of ED. Apomorphine, a central dopaminergic receptor drug, has recently been voluntarily withdrawn from FDA consideration for the treatment of ED. The efficacy of ginkgo biloba and Korean red ginseng has yet to be demonstrated by randomized, placebo-controlled trials.
Usually patients will try less invasive alternatives to treat impotence before opting for surgery. These alternatives may include supplements, herbs, lifestyle changes and even medications. In cases where other treatments do not work to resolve ED, surgery might be a last-resort option. Surgery involves implanting a penile prosthesis. This is a saline-filled silicone device or a malleable device. Although the likelihood of serious side effects is considered to be low, certain risks are associated with surgery to correct erectile dysfunction. These side effects may include: anesthetic risk, device infection, and device malfunction or mechanical failure. Some studies have found that five years following surgery around 10–20 percent of men experience device malfunction and failure. Infection rates are low. Around one percent of men who opt for this type of surgery get an infection.
Some commonly prescribed cardiovascular drugs (beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, etc.) contribute to ED.18 Previous studies have shown a strong association between ED and diuretics in patients treated with hydrochlorothiazide or chlorthalidone.19,20 It has also been shown that patients treated with first-generation non-selective beta-blockers, such as propranolol, had more frequent ED than those treated with a placebo.21
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277
Diabetes mellitus is associated with both decreased erectile function and increased cardiovascular risk. The MMAS found that the age-adjusted probability of complete impotence was 3 times higher in patients with diabetes mellitus than in those without the disease.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)

Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.

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