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.
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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.
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
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
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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (42) | Google ScholarSee all References Apomorphine does not appear to have any notable cardiovascular adverse effects and has been used successfully in Europe. However, apomorphine use has been associated with other unpleasant adverse effects such as nausea and emesis, and the drug has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States.
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.
The mechanisms of action by which antihypertensive medications cause ED are currently unknown. Some investigators have theorized that antihypertensive medications affect erectile function by decreasing blood pressure, which reduces the perfusion pressure needed to maintain sufficient blood flow for erections through atherosclerotic penile arteries.37x37Benet, AE and Melman, A. The epidemiology of erectile dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1995; 22: 699–709
"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."
In many of these cases, a discussion between the physician, the man with erectile dysfunction, and possibly his partner can help to resolve the issues leading to treatment failure. For men who experience severe side effects, can’t take the drugs for other reasons (such as taking medicines such as nitroglycerin), or don’t respond in spite of further education on the correct use of the drugs, there are other treatment options that can help most men remain sexually active.
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