Penile arterial supply (top) and venous drainage (middle), longitudinal views. Bottom, Transverse and longitudinal views of venous return. From Lue TF. Physiology of penile erection and pathophysiology of erectile dysfunction and priapism. In: Walsh PC, Retik AB, Vaughan ED Jr, Wein AJ, eds. Campbell's Urology. Vol 2. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1998:1157-1179. With permission from Elsevier.
If you’re taking medication to treat blood pressure, depression, pain, allergies, inflammation, seizures, or heart conditions, you’re one of the tens of millions of people at risk for medically induced erectile dysfunction. It’s just the nature of drug side effects. Yet erectile dysfunction is one of the least talked about side effects of prescription medication.
Alprostadil is an ED drug that comes in two forms. One form (Caverject, Caverject Impulse, or Edex) is injected into the side of the penis to increase blood flow and cause an erection within 5 to 20 minutes. Its effects last 1 hour or less. The most common side effect is pain. Other side effects include bruising, redness, numbness, bleeding, and irritation.
Abnormalities in the vascular, neural, endocrine, muscular, or psychiatric systems can result in ED.2,3 EDDM is due to multisystemic disease. Atrophy or apoptosis of cavernosal smooth muscle can occur due to loss of Bcl-2 expression in cavernosal smooth muscle and lead to ED. Abnormal amounts of advanced glycation end products is a common occurrence. These chemicals may have an effect on potassium channels that facilitate intracellular calcium release and subsequent cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation. Connective tissue synthesis is increased due to transforming growth factor-beta. The decrease in smooth muscle and the increase in collagen decreases the compliance of the erectile tissue. Neuropathic damage to both the somatic and autonomic nerves has been clearly defined in DM. Partial occlusion of the pelvic or intracavernosal arteries, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, and depression associated with a chronic illness (DM) can all play a primary or secondary role in the development of EDDM. On a molecular level, studies have demonstrated decreased levels of endothelial and neuronal nitric acid synthase (NS) and decreased cavernosal artery and sinusoidal response to nitric oxide. Abnormalities in nitric oxide rapidly render the functional syncytium of the corpora cavernosa unable to synchronously relax. As the patient with diabetes ages, the concentration of constrictors, including endothelin, prostanoids, and possibly angiotensin, increases as the production of the relaxants, including nitric oxide, vasointestinal peptide, and prostacyclin, decreases.

For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.
High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). Some of the medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause ED as well. According to the authors of one study, about 30 percent of men with high blood pressure also have had ED. Finding a medication that treats high blood pressure without causing ED is a goal of many men.
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
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Interestingly, this study found no association between erectile function and the number of years or packs per day of cigarette use. In contrast, a study of 314 current smokers with ED found that the number of cigarettes smoked inversely correlated with penile rigidity as measured by nocturnal penile tumescence.27x27Hirshkowitz, M, Karacan, I, Howell, JW, Arcasoy, MO, and Williams, RL. Nocturnal penile tumescence in cigarette smokers with erectile dysfunction. Urology. 1992; 39: 101–107
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

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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.
Current American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines quote an absolute contraindication to sildenafil use in the setting of chronic nitrate treatment or the use of short-acting nitrate medications.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
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!
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References By 1996, fueled by the availability of the new oral agent sildenafil, the number of outpatient visits for ED as estimated by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey had increased to 1.3 million per year.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

There are no studies specifically assessing the effectiveness of intraurethral suppositories of prostaglandin E1 (PGE-1) in diabetic men. A single randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of this agent in the general population of men with ED documented that 60% of those who tried this agent were able to achieve successful sexual intercourse.53 Unfortunately, in clinical practice, this agent appears to be considerably less effective.54
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.
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.
Normal penile erection is controlled by two mechanisms: reflex erection and psychogenic erection. Reflex erection occurs by directly touching the shaft of the penis, while psychogenic erection occurs by erotic or emotional stimuli. ED is a condition where erection does not take place by either mechanism. ED can occur because of hormonal imbalance, neural disorders or lack of adequate blood supply to the penis.54 Lack of blood supply can be a result of impaired endothelial function associated with CAD.54
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, patients with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy and idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis are at increased risk of syncope and sudden death after exercise.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
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An equally valuable observation though, is the fact that sexual dysfunction could indeed indicate asymptomatic CV disease. A solid amount of evidence accumulated over the last years has pointed out towards that trend moving, hesitatingly though, sexual dysfunction in the surface of scientific interest. As such, commonly under-reported, under-recognized and under-treated, sexual dysfunction could indeed play its role in cardiovascular risk assessment and stratification.
Yohimbe A number of clinical trials have shown that the primary component of this bark from an African tree can improve sexual dysfunction associated with selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression. This herb has been linked to a number of side effects, including increased blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeat, and anxiety. Yohimbe shouldn't be used without a doctor's supervision.
Erectile dysfunction supplements and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and avanafil (Stendra), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well-studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that, although hypertensive patients had more coronary artery disease, no direct evidence supported an association between hypertension and arteriogenic impotence, as measured by the PBI, peak systolic velocity, and resistive index, in patients with mild to moderate hypertension.

medicines called alpha-blockers such as Hytrin (terazosin
HCl), Flomax (tamsulosin HCl), Cardura (doxazosin
mesylate), Minipress (prazosin HCl), Uroxatral (alfuzosin HCl),
 Jalyn (dutasteride and tamsulosin HCl), or Rapaflo (silodosin).
Alpha-blockers are sometimes prescribed for prostate
problems or high blood pressure. In some patients, the use
of Sildenafil with alpha-blockers can lead to a drop in blood pressure or to fainting
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Risk of arrythmias after sexual intercourse was evaluated in 82 patients with stable coronary artery disease who were monitored with ambulatory ECG after sexual intercourse.81x81Drory, Y, Fisman, EZ, Shapira, Y, and Pines, A. Ventricular arrhythmias during sexual activity in patients with coronary artery disease. Chest. 1996; 109: 922–924
Erectile dysfunction is the persistent inability to maintain an erection that is not firm enough or lasts long enough to have sexual intercourse. This is a common problem and at least 40 % of men suffer from erectile dysfunction at least occasionally. Manipal Fertility has been instrumental in bringing Men’s Health as an independent area of focus not only for fertility but also erectile dysfunction. We are the pioneers in introducing Non Invasive Shockwave therapy for Erectile Dysfunction.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Although some case studies have reported a relationship between calcium channel blockers and ED, most studies suggest that this effect is minimal and that any relationship is likely secondary to a decrease in blood pressure with consequent reflex sympathetic activation.42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
The truth is medication or psychosexual counselling are the first treatments a doctor will suggest because they’ve been proven to work. If a doctor has approved a medication for you then it’s safe. If you would still like to see if herbal supplements work for you, then there is a list below of supplements thought to work for erectile dysfunction. Just before you invest your money in them, remember they aren’t proven to work:
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (71) | Google ScholarSee all References However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 22 middle-aged men with hypercholesterolemia treated for 6 weeks with pravastatin or lovastatin showed improved erectile function with both medications.54x54Kostis, JB, Rosen, RC, and Wilson, AC. Central nervous system effects of HMG CoA reductase inhibitors: lovastatin and pravastatin on sleep and cognitive performance in patients with hypercholesterolemia. J Clin Pharmacol. 1994; 34: 989–996

Many products contain undocumented “fillers” that can cause allergic reactions.  In recent years, the FDA has found over 300 herbal products that contain hidden, deceptively labeled, or dangerous ingredients4. And since 2015, the FDA has released public warnings on more than 160 ED supplements and “male enhancement” products found to contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants5 .   An independent study of FDA data, conducted in 2018, found almost 800 herbal supplements that contained unlisted ingredients6.
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.
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
Neurological (nerve and brain) diseases: The nervous system plays a vital part in achieving and maintaining an erection. It is common for men with conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries to experience ED. This is due to an interruption in the transmission of nerve impulses between the brain and the penis.
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

airdone/ShutterstockErectile dysfunction (ED) is a serious issue for men, which helps explain all the prescription drugs, over-the-counter treatments, and herbal concoctions that claim to cure ED. (In fact, it’s one of the top nine health risks men need to watch out for.) But before any guy decides to take matters into his own hands, he should talk to his doctor about a heart checkup: A new study published in the journal Vascular Medicine suggests ED can signal cardiovascular concerns.


PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a study of 132 patients evaluated by penile duplex ultrasonography after intracorporeal papaverine injection found that hypertension alone was not an independent risk factor for vasculogenic ED.34x34Shabsigh, R, Fishman, IJ, Schum, C, and Dunn, JK. Cigarette smoking and other vascular risk factors in vasculogenic impotence. Urology. 1991; 38: 227–231
“If a diabetic patient has erectile dysfunction, it’s not enough to provide Viagra [sildenafil] or Cialis [tadalafil] and then send him on his merry way,” J. Francois Eid, MD, a New York City urologist, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It’s important to let individuals know the drug has not cured the erectile dysfunction. If patients don’t take care of the diabetes, the erectile dysfunction progresses.”
The number of men reporting improvement was at 88% during the study. The number of men involved in the study who reported impotence dropped from 75.3 % to 11.8%. The results of this study raise hope for men who have quit taking other blood pressure medications because they interfered with sexual function. Sexual dysfunction was defined for the study as decreased libido, impotence and poor sexual satisfaction.

The pathophysiological basis for the predictive ability of ED has been discussed above. It should be emphasized, however, that ED should not only be viewed as a manifestation of obstructive CAD that could be identified by ischaemia revealing tests. Owing to the inflammatory and pro-thrombotic activation of the disease,13 it should also be regarded as an early warning sign of an imminent acute event (mainly acute myocardial infarction)22 due to the rupture of a subclinical plaque, and thus identification of the risk should ideally include plaque vulnerability tests. Finally, an issue that has important clinical implications is by how long the clinical manifestation of ED precedes the clinical manifestation of CAD. According to studies, men with ED and no cardiac symptoms have an increased incidence of experiencing a cardiac event, both acute and chronic, in the ensuing 2–5 years, thus providing a ‘window of opportunity’ for risk reduction management in these patients.2

Erections are extremely complicated and surprisingly fragile. Erections involve chemical signals, nerve impulses, complicated blood pressure changes, and overall fitness in systems ranging from your heart and hormones to your mood. When medication changes how one of these factors works—like blood pressure drops or depression medication—ED is a common side effect. The problem with these completely predictable medically induced side effects is how people react.


Heart disease and erectile dysfunction can be related. In fact, ED and heart disease are considered two signs of the same disease process. The smaller arteries in the penis are affected by atherosclerosis sooner, perhaps three or more years before they cause heart disease symptoms.11 A large international study found that men with ED were more likely to die from heart causes; have a heart attack, stroke or be admitted to the hospital with heart failure than men with no or mild ED.12

Besides mammalian organs, insects and arthropods are also consumed as aphrodisiacs in Eastern medicine. These include scorpions, spiders, beetles, flies and other bugs (32). Penile erections can be observed following administration of neurotoxins as it causes repetitive firing of the somatic, sympathetic and parasympathetic neurons, resulting in autonomic and neuromuscular over-excitation. Scorpions are often used as an ingredient found in herbal wines. However, there is a general lack of literature regarding the consumption of scorpion neurotoxins for potency.


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
Before Viagra hit the market in 1998, there was no proven treatment for erectile dysfunction that men could take in pill form. Doctors were interested in yohimbe, an herb that increases heart rate and blood pressure. Some doctors prescribed it to their patients in combination with other treatments for erectile dysfunction. Even then it was not a recommended treatment and is still not today. Studies have not proven that it works.
The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References A study of 24 patients with ED and untreated essential hypertension showed decreased levels of free and total serum testosterone compared with normal controls.31x31Hughes, GS, Mathur, RS, and Margolius, HS. Sex steroid hormones are altered in essential hypertension. J Hypertens. 1989; 7: 181–187
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
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.
Most of the time, ED is the first symptom of poor cardiovascular health. Hypertension oftentimes doesn’t manifest outward symptoms of heart disease.  Some men go undiagnosed with high blood pressure for a long time. It can be troublesome for many men who feel uncomfortable discussing ED with their health providers. Many fail to seek medical advice and suffer from progressive worsening of their cardiovascular problems before deciding to undergo treatment.
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.
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