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.
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.
*all photos are models and not actual patients.If you are interested in a prescription product, Hims will assist in setting up a visit for you with an independent physician who will evaluate whether or not you are an appropriate candidate for the prescription product and if appropriate, may write you a prescription for the product which you can fill at the pharmacy of your choice.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F
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
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.
There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F

Intracavernosal and intraurethral injections are second-line therapy for patients with ED. Alprostadil is the agent most commonly used for intracavernosal injections. The main adverse effects of intracavernosal injections are painful erection, priapism and development of scarring at the injection site.73 Alprostadil is also available as a topical cream in patients who cannot tolerate injections.75

Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23


There’s one more thing to remember: A visit to a physician can be helpful even if a man doesn’t want to go near Viagra or try one of the alternatives. In some cases, a treatable medical condition such as low testosterone or depression could explain a case of ED. “Sexual health should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an essential component to wellness,” said urologist Ryan P. Terlecki, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.
Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile function relies on the arterial blood supply from the internal pudendal arteries, which are branches of the hypogastric arterial system (Figure 1). Substantial increases in internal pudendal arterial flow result in pressures within the penis that are comparable to systemic arterial levels.12x12Rampin, O and Giuliano, F. Central control of the cardiovascular and erection systems: possible mechanisms and interactions. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 19F–22F

High blood pressure and erectile dysfunction (ED) often go hand in hand. While having high blood pressure (hypertension) itself may not initially cause any symptoms, it will damage your arteries over time, leading them to become less flexible and progressively more narrow. This not only increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, but has the potential to compromise blood flow to many organs in the body, including the penis, if left untreated.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References They evaluated 40 patients with coronary artery disease who underwent coronary artery catheterization and whose penile brachial index (PBI) was measured by Doppler ultrasonography. Although a positive correlation was noted between the PBI and the severity of coronary artery obstruction, the relationship was not strong. Also, the degree of PBI abnormality did not effectively stratify the patients according to the severity of their coronary artery blockage. This study concluded that the PBI used alone would not be an effective predictor of ischemic heart disease.

Montorsi P,  Ravagnani PM,  Galli S,  Rotatori F,  Veglia F,  Briganti A,  Salonia A,  Dehò F,  Rigatti P,  Montorsi F,  Fiorentini C. Association between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease. Role of coronary clinical presentation and extent of coronary vessels involvement: the COBRA trial, Eur Heart J , 2006, vol. 27 (pg. 2632-2639)https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehl142


Low testosterone represents another link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. A man’s testosterone levels gradually diminish beginning at age 30. By the time he reaches his 70s, testosterone levels may have dropped to a tenth of youthful levels. Diminishing testosterone levels contribute to loss of muscle, increased body fat, and reduced libido. Fatigue is common, as is depression. Low testosterone levels can also result in reduced concentration, irritability, passivity, loss of interest in activities, and even hypochondria.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (164) | Google ScholarSee all References Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown vardenafil to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to a wide range of other etiologies as well.71x71Hellstrom, WJ, Gittelman, M, Karlin, G..., and Vardenafil Study Group. Sustained efficacy and tolerability of vardenafil, a highly potent selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in men with erectile dysfunction: results of a randomized, double-blind, 26-week placebo-controlled pivotal trial. Urology. 2003; 61: 8–14
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References It has been postulated that regular exercise can decrease or possibly eliminate the small risk of myocardial infarction associated with sexual intercourse in most patients.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
Faced with concern about ED pills and the heart, the FDA has urged caution in patients who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, or serious disturbances of the heart's pumping rhythm in the previous six months, in men with a history of congestive heart failure or unstable angina, and in men with low blood pressure or uncontrolled high blood pressure (above 170/110 mm Hg). Because certain medications can boost the blood levels of these drugs, men taking erythromycin or certain antifungal or anti-HIV medications should use only low-dose PDE-5 inhibitors. Reduced dosage is also important for men with advanced age and for those with significant kidney or liver disease.
"Just because there is evidence doesn't mean it's good evidence," says Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, and one of the original clinical investigators for the ED drug Viagra (sildenafil). "And before men with ED start down the naturopathic route, it's smart to make sure that there isn't some underlying medical condition that needs to be corrected." Moreover, it is estimated that 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and 70% of cases are a result of a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. Additionally, ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems.
Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (124) | Google ScholarSee all References This was a doubleblind, single-dose crossover study involving 41 men with stable coronary artery disease characterized by reproducible stable exertional angina. After taking either 10 mg of vardenafil or placebo, these men underwent treadmill exercise tolerance testing to 5 to 10 METs. Compared with placebo, vardenafil use did not result in a change in exercise treadmill time or time to first awareness of angina but significantly increased the time to ischemic threshold. At peak exercise levels, vardenafil did not cause a change in either heart rate or blood pressure level. This study concluded that 10 mg of vardenafil did not impair the ability of men with stable coronary artery disease to exercise at levels consistent with the exertion associated with sexual intercourse.

In the early years of my cardiology practice, I was surprised by the number of men with heart disease who also suffered from impotence. In fact, being incapable of having an erection was the norm rather than the exception after heart attack. In those days, impotence was widely attributed to the psychological depression that often followed heart attack.
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Another study evaluated 32 hypertensive men with ED and 78 normotensive men with ED with regard to age, body mass index, hormonal profile, penile arterial flow, risk factors for arterial disease, psychiatric disease, and neurologic disease measured by pudendal nerve conduction studies.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
Stem cell therapy is an attractive treatment modality and an appealing option for tissue regenerative therapy for ED. Stem cells are pluripotent cells that can be produced from multiple regions within the body. They have the potential to divide and differentiate into numerous kinds of human cells, such as endothelial cells and smooth muscle.79 The efficacy and safety of gene and stem cell therapy in patients with ED and IHD need to be extensively investigated because both seem to have the potential to correct underlying abnormalities in ED. This would be a huge development in terms of management options for patients with ED and IHD.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33
In the early years of my cardiology practice, I was surprised by the number of men with heart disease who also suffered from impotence. In fact, being incapable of having an erection was the norm rather than the exception after heart attack. In those days, impotence was widely attributed to the psychological depression that often followed heart attack.
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.
Treatment of ED which was previously confined to invasive procedures, cavernosal injections or to rather ineffective oral medications was revolutionized in 1999 with the introduction of the orally administered PDE5 inhibitor sildenafil. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are the first-line therapy for ED of organic aetiology unless there is a specific contraindication to their use. This class of agents is widely used because of its effectiveness and safety.38 Interactions with cardiovascular drugs have been minimal with the exception of nitrates and other nitric oxide (NO) donors (such as nicorandil), where co-administration may result in severe vasodilation and hypotension. However, nitrates are often overused in clinical practice; therefore, the option of their discontinuation should be considered. A strong body of clinical data shows that all three agents (sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil) do not increase the risk of non-fatal myocardial infarction, stroke, or cardiovascular deaths. These drugs do not exacerbate ischaemia or worsen exercise tolerance in patients with known CAD who achieve levels of exercise comparable or greater than that achieved during sexual intercourse.38,39 Phosphodiesterase type 5 is expressed throughout the human body, including the pulmonary and systemic vasculature and hypertrophied myocardium. While currently their only additional indication, beyond ED, is idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (for sildenafil and tadalafil), they show potential to be of benefit in several other conditions, such as CAD and systolic heart failure.39 Mechanisms of benefit of PDE5 inhibitors include pulmonary and systemic vasodilation, increased myocardial contractility, reduced large artery stiffness and wave reflections, improved endothelial function, and reduced apoptosis, fibrosis and hypertrophy through mechanisms involving NO, cyclic guanosine monophosphate, protein kinase G and Rho kinase.39 A very important issue is whether treatment of ED per se (and not of its risk factors and comorbidities) will have an impact on cardiovascular risk. While this applies to all therapeutic modalities of ED, it is particularly pertinent for PDE5 inhibitors, since they represent the mainstay of ED therapy. Data are limited to date. Gazzaruso et al.21 showed a trend of PDE5 inhibitors to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in diabetic patients with silent CAD and ED, while Frantzen et al.40 showed that 2 years after the introduction of sildenafil, the relative risk of the incidence of CVD among men with ED compared with healthy men significantly decreased from 1.7 to 1.1.
Other factors that “stress” the body can also increase your risk for ED. These include: substance abuse, using marijuana, smoking cigarettes, depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Cigarette smoking — or using nicotine — leads to constricted blood vessels, which has negative effects for sexual health. Other mental/emotional obstacles can cause less desire for sex and decrease testosterone. Several ways to help manage stress include:

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.
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