Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual performance. The prevalence of ED has been estimated as nearly 40% of men >40 years of age1 although these figures are contested.2 ED increases in frequency with age and is estimated to affect 15% of men aged 40–50 years, 45% of men in their 60s and 70% of men older than 70 years.3 Successful erection is a complex system involving reflex action (peripheral nerves and spinal cord), the limbic system (psychogenic stimuli) and the release of nitric oxide. Adequate levels of testosterone are required, and hence an intact hypothalamic/pituitary/testicular axis. Hence, ED can result from disease or treatment that produces hormonal deficiency, neurological impairment, problems with penile blood flow, disorders of tissue mechanics, psychological factors or any combination of these.
Erectile dysfunction means that a man is not able to have sex because he cannot get or keep an erection. Erectile dysfunction affects >30% of men between 40 and 70 years of age. There are several different causes of ED, including depression, low testosterone, nerve problems, and some medications, but the most common cause is a problem with the blood vessels called atherosclerosis.
For oral erectile dysfunction medicines to work as desired, they must be used properly in the first place. This means taking the medicine 30–45 minutes before engaging in sexual intimacy; taking the drug on an empty stomach or at least avoiding a heavy or high-fat meal before taking the drug (this is especially important when using sildenafil); and engaging in adequate genital stimulation before attempting intercourse. Drinking small amounts of alcohol (one to two drinks) should not compromise the effectiveness of erectile dysfunction medicines, but larger amounts of alcohol can diminish a man’s ability to have an erection.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Possible etiologies for ED secondary to hypertension include vascular damage due to hypertensive changes as well as hormonal abnormalities such as elevated prolactin levels.30x30Jaffe, A, Chen, Y, Kisch, ES, Fischel, B, Alon, M, and Stern, N. Erectile dysfunction in hypertensive subjects: assessment of potential determinants. Hypertension. 1996; 28: 859–862
In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.
When antihypertensive medication comes to the fore, certain issues need to be carefully addressed. This is due to the fact that medically induced erectile dysfunction is one of the major reasons for non-adherence and treatment discontinuation, a reality that could have deleterious consequences on patient’s cardiovascular profile and health quality in the long term[38,39].
A number of drugs are known to cause ED in patients with DM (Table 1). For example, many EDDM patients are on antihypertensive medications. Replacement of thiazides or beta-blockers with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers may be sufficient to regain erectile ability.5 Furthermore, discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, if these drugs are not essential for patient well-being, may be therapeutic. Careful monitoring following drug discontinuation will help to determine if ED is due to the medication or other underlying disorders. The benefits of continued drug therapy with these drugs should always be weighed against the likelihood of causing ED and impacting on the patient's QOL.
Obesity is a strong predictor of ED as it is associated with other risk factors, such as diabetes, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.4 Obesity increases the risk of ED by 30–90 % and acts as an independent risk factor for CVD. Obese men with ED have greater impairment in endothelial function than non-obese men with ED.5 Moreover, high BMI causes low testosterone levels, which in turn leads to ED, as observed in a prospective trial involving 7,446 participants.50
Physical and emotional stress — whether over-exercising, under-sleeping or just dealing with everyday stressors like work and a busy schedule — causes an increase in “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline. Stress can lower desire for sex. This is because stress can contribute to fatigue or preoccupation with other tasks. It can also significantly affect blood flow by increasing inflammation.
Jelqing is penile massage technique of ancient Arabic origin (52). Men who practise jelqing will stretch their penises while in a semi-erected state and repeatedly milk their penises from base to glans, with their thumb and index finger touching to form an “OK” hand sign around their penile shaft. This massage can be done daily with the aim to achieve greater penile length and harder erections. Unwanted side effects of bruising, pain and fibrosis had been reported. No studies have been done to evaluate the efficacy of jelqing objectively.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References In some elderly men, tadalafil could be detected in the bloodstream 6 days after oral ingestion.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
The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
Since their introduction in the therapeutic field, more than a decade ago, PDE-5 inhibitors have revolutionized the treatment of sexual dysfunction. By blocking the activity of PDE-5 isoenzyme, localized throughout the smooth muscle cells of the vasculature (genital vessels included), PDE-5 inhibitors increase the levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate thus exerting vasodilating properties and facilitating penile erection[40-42]. Due to these properties, sildenafil was the first drug of its class to receive wide acceptance. Its short half-life, food interactions and the associated visual disturbances however, paved the way for the development of newer PDE-5 inhibitors. As such vardenafil with its more rapid onset of action, and tadalafil with its longer half-life and the lack of food interactions or side effects, have offered significant alternatives to sildenafil[43-50].
Table 3 is a suggested algorithm for the assessment of patients and their further categorization and handling. There are parts of investigation that are common for patients both with and without CVD, while additional elements of investigation are helpful in categorizing the patient without CVD to the appropriate risk category. Determination of exercise ability and stress testing is crucial to the assessment (see also below ‘Exercise ability: the risk of sexual activity’). Patients without established CVD or diabetes should be evaluated for their risk of future events according to risk scores (SCORE or Framingham). Patients with established CVD or diabetes are by default considered at increased risk. Patients with adequate exercise ability or a negative stress test can initiate or resume sexual activity and begin treatment for ED. In patients with a positive stress test or in high-risk patients, sexual activity should be deferred until the cardiac condition has been treated and stabilized. In all cases, patient follow-up and reassessment is recommended.
In another study, 60 patients underwent stress exercise cardiovascular testing and Doppler ultrasonography for measurement of their cavernosal artery peak systolic velocity (PSV).17x17Kawanishi, Y, Lee, KS, Kimura, K et al. Screening of ischemic heart disease with cavernous artery blood flow in erectile dysfunctional patients. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 100–103
Third, men with Diabetes need to control their blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is not under control, your body does not produce enough Nitric Oxide (NO) and vascular tissues don’t respond as effectively to NO. When enough blood flows into the penis, penile veins close off and block the blood from flowing out. This process results in an erection. If your body does not produce enough NO or if your penile tissues do not respond to NO, the pressure of the blood flowing into your penis is not sufficient to trap the blood, you penis will not get hard.
Recent revised labeling for sildenafil states that there is a lack of controlled data for its use in patients with resting hypotension (<90/50 mm Hg) or hypertension (>170/110 mm Hg); a history of myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the past 6 months; coronary artery disease or cardiac failure causing unstable angina; or retinitis pigmentosa and possible genetic disorders of retinal PDEs.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Furthermore, if feelings of sadness, bloating, or weight gain are prominent, it may be beneficial to measure a form of estrogen called estradiol. This form of estrogen can be elevated in men, particularly in those who are overweight, and may trigger these abnormal responses, increasing the risk of heart disease. Estradiol levels above 30 pg/mL are generally considered abnormal. Weight loss can help correct elevated estradiol, as can prescription “aromatase inhibitors,” such as Arimidex®. In addition, a nutritional supplement called chrysin has been shown in the laboratory to inhibit the aromatase enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone to estradiol.24 You should consult your doctor to determine if this supplement may be helpful for you.
A considerable number of patients with ED can have psychogenic factors as the only cause, or in combination with organic causes of ED. Depression, low self-esteem and social stresses are among the psychogenic factors that can lead to ED. Depression is an independent risk factor for both ED and IHD; these three disease conditions are interlinked.51 Psychogenic ED can be managed by multiple psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, couples counselling and guided sexual stimulation techniques.52
Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.
Experimental in vivo studies have implicated central and peripheral neuropathy, impaired neurotransmission, and endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of diabetic ED.26,27 Copulatory behavior and penile reflexes are uniformly impaired 4–12 months after the onset of diabetes in the BB rat.26,27 McVary et al.26 found that peripheral neuropathy accounts for only part of the dysfunctional findings, and that spinal sexual reflexes were also severely impaired.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References Other studies have proposed that the strain involved with intercourse in older patients is less associated with physical exertion and more closely related to sexual arousal.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
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.
David F. Penson, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of urology and preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Hunter Wessells, MD, is an associate professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and chief of urology at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.
Diuretics: Also called water pills, this medication is a common treatment for reducing blood pressure. They work by getting rid of unnecessary water and salt in the urine. This essentially helps lower blood pressure and can make it easier for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, diuretics can reduce the blood flow to the penis, making erections difficult to achieve. Zinc levels have been known to diminish due to diuretic use, which may lead to a decreased production of overall testosterone.
ED can be caused by many things. The most common causes in men with diabetes are problems related to blood vessel– and nerve-related complications. Sometimes, though rarely, ED can be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Depression can also cause ED, as can stress and excessive worrying about sexual performance. Certain medications can cause temporary ED.
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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Almost every class of antihyper-tensive medication has been implicated in causing ED; however, most of these studies, published as case reports or patient surveys, have been relatively subjective and uncontrolled.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
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
Penile vibratory stimulator is a battery operated device with oscillating discs that can provide excitation of afferent penile nerves at various regulated frequency and amplitudes. PVS has been utilised to activate the ejaculatory reflex for patients with spinal cord injury above T10 seeking to collect retrogradely ejaculated semen in fertility treatment (10). The Viberect is a vibratory stimulation handheld device approved by FDA for treatment of ED. It is clamp-shaped with two oscillating discs facing each other near the tips, and the glans penis is placed between the two oscillating discs to receive concurrent dorsal and ventral stimulation at adjustable frequencies and amplitudes.
The third Princeton Consensus (Expert Panel) Conference recommends assessing cardiovascular risk in all patients with ED and CVD. This refers to estimating the risk of mortality and morbidity associated with sexual activity. The current recommendations classify patients into low-, intermediate- and high-risk, based on their New York Heart Association class.57 The consensus also recommended that all patients with ED and CVD should undergo lifestyle changes, such as exercise, smoking cessation, healthy diet and weight reduction. These measures are likely to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve erectile function.58
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of relevant studies in this field confirmed that erectile dysfunction is associated with increased risk of CV events and all-cause mortality. The pooled relative risks were 1.44 (95%CI: 1.27-1.63) for total CV events, 1.19 (95%CI: 0.97-1.46) for CV mortality, 1.62 (95%CI: 1.34-1.96) for myocardial infarction, 1.39 (95%CI: 1.23-1.57) for cerebrovascular events, and 1.25 (95%CI: 1.12-1.39) for all-cause mortality, for men with vs without erectile dysfunction. Of note, the relative risk was higher in intermediate-compared with high- or low-CV-risk populations and with younger age, with obvious clinical implications. Interestingly, the relative risks were higher when erectile dysfunction was diagnosed with the use of a questionnaire compared with a single question (RR = 1.61; 95%CI: 1.38-1.86 vs RR = 1.27; 95%CI: 1.18-1.37, respectively; P = 0.006).
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS found the total prevalence of minimal to severe ED to be 52% and estimated that more than 617,000 new cases were expected to occur annually in the United States.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
While Western medicine emphases the link between cardiovascular function and ED, TCM places importance on liver and kidney ailments as causative factor for development of ED. Western medicine involves a step-wise approach by targeting the relevant organ systems to treat various clinical symptoms; but TCM focuses on restoring the balance between various organs to achieve harmony and holistic approach to inner sense (4). The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western medicine and TCM (see Table 1).