Cardiovascular disease and ED represent 2 common disease processes that are often intimately associated with one another. These common pathophysiological links necessitate a solid scientific and clinical understanding of these 2 disorders and a team effort between the cardiologist and urologist to provide effective management strategies for these patients.
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Attainment and maintenance of a firm erection requires good arterial inflow of blood and efficient trapping of venous outflow. Therefore, disease processes that affect the function of the arterial and venous systems would be expected to negatively affect erectile function. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in the male population and is especially evident with increasing age. The interplay of cardiovascular health and sexual function includes the risk of cardiac events precipitated by the physical exertion of sexual activity and by some medications, such as sildenafil, on the cardiovascular system. An estimated 500,000 patients survive a myocardial infarction each year in the United States, and an estimated 11 million patients have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many 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
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.
Erectile dysfunction is common in the patient with cardiovascular disease. It is an important component of the quality of life and it also confers an independent risk for future cardiovascular events. The usual 3-year time period between the onset of erectile dysfunction symptoms and a cardiovascular event offers an opportunity for risk mitigation. Thus, sexual function should be incorporated into cardiovascular disease risk assessment for all men. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) improves overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling improves the quality of life and increases adherence to medication. This review explores the critical connection between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease and evaluates how this relationship may influence clinical practice. Algorithms for the management of patient with erectile dysfunction according to the risk for sexual activity and future cardiovascular events are proposed.
While a widely held perception is that CVD drugs cause ED, data attest towards the contrary and some agents may be even beneficial.41 Only thiazide diuretics lead clearly to ED, while some older beta-blockers also do so, but the side-effect of ED was very low (∼3%) when the patient was blinded for the drug administration.42 In fact, the vasodilating nebivolol may even improve erectile function.35,43 ACE-inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers, and calcium-channel blockers are reported to have neutral or even a positive effect on erectile function35,41,43 but more evidence is needed. Regarding statins, the largest body of evidence point towards a beneficial effect.44 A negative effect has been reported in high statin doses, possibly related to a potential reduction in serum testosterone levels, but this dose dependency warrants further investigation. In terms of patient management, when ED onset and therapy initiation are linked and a cause-and-effect association is presumed, a short period of drug withdrawal with monitoring for ED resolution for verification may be an option. In patients who developed ED long after the initiation of CV drug treatment, sexual dysfunction is less likely to be drug associated and PDE5 inhibition therapy may be initiated.

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.


Cavallini, G., Modenini, F., Vitali, G., & Koverech, A. (2005, November). Acetyl-L-carnitine plus propionyl-L-carnitine improve efficacy of sildenafil in treatment of erectile dysfunction after bilateral nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy. Urology, 66(5), 1080-5. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429505006515
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (47) | Google ScholarSee all References Because of this perceived increase in risk, many couples are concerned about resuming sexual activity in the setting of cardiac disease. A study that monitored male patients after coronary artery bypass grafting found that 17% of patients and 35% of their partners were afraid of resuming sexual activity.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
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.
When it comes to combating heart disease, most information sources promote drugs and surgery as the only viable options, with lip service to dietary advice that simply does not work. As a result, the demand for high-tech, expensive, but largely ineffective medical care is soaring, causing medical costs and insurance rates to skyrocket. This chase for "cures" is both financially devastating and futile. Morbidity and premature mortality from heart disease continue to rise, with no sign of abating.
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.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phase 2 and 3 trials reported minimal associated cardiac adverse effects, which occurred in 3% of patients taking sildenafil and in 3.5% of patients receiving placebos.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N


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.
"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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Cardiologists use METs of oxygen consumption to compare the energy expenditure of different forms of activity.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 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."
There are so many potential reasons a man might develop erectile dysfunction (ED), it's nearly impossible to generalize the best ways to treat it. What works for one man may not work for another simply because they are having problems for different reasons. That said, it may encouraging to hear that there are a variety of options that may be considered, from psychological counseling to lifestyle changes, medications to treatments and devices.
A component of the increased risk conferred by ED could be testosterone deficiency.24 Low testosterone leads to increased levels of total and LDL cholesterol, as well as to increased production of pro-inflammatory markers and mediators.25 Endothelial dysfunction and increased arterial wall thickness, stiffening, and calcification also ensue. On this basis it has been hypothesized that chronically lowered testosterone may increase CVD risk. Indeed, androgen deficiency has emerged as a predictor of CV events, as well as of all-cause and CV mortality, both in the general population and in patients with CV risk factors, with hypertension, with established CVD, and with ED.26 Viewed from the opposite angle, higher serum testosterone showed a protective role for CV events in elderly men.27 A 2010 meta-analysis limited to studies in middle-aged men found no association between total testosterone (TT) levels and CVD risk.28 However, a more recent meta-analysis involving a larger number of studies identified significant associations between androgen deficiency and increased risk of CVD and CVD mortality.29 It should be stressed, however, that the nature of these studies cannot prove causality. The possibility that low testosterone may be an epiphenomenon, marking poor general health rather than modulating CVD risk per se has to be explored.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References The Framingham Heart Study found a baseline risk of myocardial infarction in a healthy 50-year-old nonsmoking man to be approximately 1% per year, or 1 chance per million per hour.87x87Anderson, KM, Odell, PM, Wilson, PW, and Kannel, WB. Cardiovascular disease risk profiles. Am Heart J. 1991; 121: 293–298

Beta-blockers: A popular blood pressure medication that affects part of the nervous system in an attempt to slow and regulate heartbeats, helping reduce blood pressure. Unfortunately, this same part of the nervous system is also responsible for causing erections, and when beta blockers are used, it indirectly reduces the amount of blood flow to the penis.


The vascular endothelium has an important role in angiogenesis and vascular repair by producing regulatory substances, including NO, prostaglandin, endothelins, prostacyclin and angiotensin II. These regulatory factors regulate the blood flow to the penis by controlling smooth muscle contractility and subsequent vasoconstriction and vasodilatation. Generally, in erectile tissue, increased blood flow through the cavernosal artery increases shear stress and produces NO, which further relaxes the vascular smooth muscles and increases blood flow in the corpora cavernosa.54 These events cause penile erection. However, in ED, endothelial NO synthesis is reduced and there is increased endothelial cell death (Figure 2).55
De Berardis et al.6 assessed general HRQOL in 1,460 men with type 2 diabetes in Italy. Within the cohort, 615 men reported that they never experienced ED, 346 stated that they occasionally had ED, and 449 stated that they frequently had ED. They then compared general HRQOL among these three groups. In the univariate analysis, they found that degree of ED negatively correlated with general HRQOL scores in all eight domains of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) health survey questionnaire. In the multivariate analysis, ED was not independently associated with physical function, bodily pain, or role limitations due to physical problem scores but was independently associated with general HRQOL outcomes in the domains of general health (P = 0.004), role limitations due to emotional problems (P = 0.001), vitality (P = 0.001), social functioning (P = 0.01), and overall mental health (P = 0.002). Another study examining the effect of ED on quality of life in hemodialysis patients, more than half of whom had diabetes, also noted an independent, negative effect of ED on the emotional domains of general HRQOL.39
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Diabetes was found to play a major role in vasculogenic impotence in a study of 265 patients with ED who underwent color duplex ultrasonography of the cavernosal arteries after intracavernosal injection of prostaglandin E1.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430
Clinical practice in TCM has been an exemplary case of customized treatment with holism epitomizes the essence of TCM. TCM encompasses these aspects, taking a holistic approach to patient’s problem and these methods combine body, mind and spirit, and healings are achieved via the concept of energy rather than matter, as in modern medicine. Compared to the complexity of modern science, which is the basis of Western medicine, this concept is easily understood and comprehended, and is readily accepted because of its holistic approach.
The use of penile support device such as penile cast worn externally during intercourse has been tried to provide length and rigidity to the penile shaft (24). Each device can be customised to the patient’s penile size and provided an option for patients who are seeking non-pharmaceutical/non-invasive treatment, or have end-organ failure who may not be candidates for, or unable to afford, penile prosthesis implant.

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.
Olsson et al. conducted a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group, and flexible dose study in 224 men with ED and one CVD, including IHD (20 %) and hypertension (80 %). This study reported that the sildenafil-treated group showed 71 % improvement in ED compared with the placebo-controlled group (24 %).64 Furthermore, no treatment-related cardiovascular adverse events were reported.65 Conti et al. showed in an early study that sildenafil is an effective treatment for ED in patients with IHD; the majority of patients reported improvement in penile erection with it.66 Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study of patients with ED and stable CAD showed statistically significant improvement with sildenafil versus placebo in both the frequency of penetration and frequency of maintained erections after penetration.67
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.
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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phase 2 and 3 trials reported minimal associated cardiac adverse effects, which occurred in 3% of patients taking sildenafil and in 3.5% of patients receiving placebos.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Clinical practice in TCM has been an exemplary case of customized treatment with holism epitomizes the essence of TCM. TCM encompasses these aspects, taking a holistic approach to patient’s problem and these methods combine body, mind and spirit, and healings are achieved via the concept of energy rather than matter, as in modern medicine. Compared to the complexity of modern science, which is the basis of Western medicine, this concept is easily understood and comprehended, and is readily accepted because of its holistic approach.

Diabetes care providers, while becoming more aware of the high prevalence of ED in men with diabetes, may not appreciate the importance of maintaining erectile function to their patients. A recent study by Rance et al.40 underscores the fact that diabetic men, regardless of whether they actually have ED, believe that ED has a major impact on quality of life and that it is as important to treat as many other conditions associated with diabetes. In an effort to determine the relative importance of treatment for ED compared to other diabetic complications, they gave 192 consecutive diabetic men and 51 control patients seen at two hospitals a standardized questionnaire that assessed the relative importance of a number of diabetic complications and the patients' willingness to pay per month to avoid a particular complication.

Although DM patients often correctly assume that their ED is of organic origin, a psychogenic component should be considered, especially in the younger patient. If this is the case, the patient may benefit from psychosocial therapy that includes anxiety reduction and desensitization, cognitivebehavioral intervention, sexual stimulation techniques, and interpersonal assertiveness with couples communication training.6 Not all healthcare providers offer these options. Freudian-based psychotherapy for EDDM has not been proved to be efficacious.
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.

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.


After analyzing 28 previous studies on the link between ED and heart disease, the researchers found a connection between erectile dysfunction and poor endothelial function. “Blood vessels are unable to fully dilate and allow blood to flow through,” explains Medicalnewstoday.com. “Endothelial dysfunction is an early sign of atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke.” The researchers also determined that there was a thickening of one of the inner two layers of the carotid artery—another heart-disease indicator.

Sexual dysfunction has been evaluated in ancient literature of TCM in terms of subjective sensation and the actual sexual performance (3). In TCM, methods and matters related to direct sexual activity is described in terms of “ten motions”, “seven impairments” and “eight benefits”, which asserted that the ideal intensity and frequency of sexual activity should be moderate. TCM is all about balance, to achieve better overall regulation of the yin and the yang. The aim of treatment of ED using TCM is not for the end point of a penile erection but rather for a natural and harmonious sex life. TCM aims to achieve regulation in terms of the man’s anxiety, fatigability, changing hormonal levels, insomnia and gastroparesis. Medicine to invigorate qi can enhance physical fitness, and medicine to warm the kidneys can regulate sex hormones, increase libido, invigorate the spleen, regulate the stomach and improve general well-being (3). Medications used to treat a “stagnated liver” provide tranquilization and helps to stabilize the mind, hence improving mental processes and emotional wellness. As a result, the patient’s overall condition and quality of life is improved.
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.
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