Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
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
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.

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[89]. 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).


Erectile dysfunction (ED) is highly prevalent affecting at least 50 % of men with diabetes mellitus (DM). DM may cause ED through a number of pathophysiological pathways. These include neuropathy, endothelial dysfunction, cavernosal smooth muscle structural/functional changes, and hormonal changes. Lifestyle changes, diabetes control, and treatment of hypogonadism are important as the first step in ED management since there is no curative treatment for ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) are the first-line treatment option. Intracavernous administration of vasoactive drugs is commonly used as a second-line medical treatment when PDE5i have failed. Alprostadil is the most widely used drug in this second-line setting. The combination of papaverine, phentolamine, and alprostadil represents the most efficacious intracavernous pharmacologic treatment option that may save non-responders to alprostadil. Penile prosthesis implantation can be considered in treatment refractory cases, with excellent functional and safety results in the properly informed patients.


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References However, if optimally treated with β-blockers, lipid-lowering agents, and aspirin, these patients have no significantly increased cardiovascular risk associated with sexual activity, although they should receive appropriate risk information.88x88Jackson, G. The use of sildenafil in heart disease [editorial]. Hosp Med. 2000; 61: 526–527

Erectile dysfunction is frequent in patients with established CAD with prevalence rates ranging between 47 and 75% in studies.2,4,14 The AssoCiatiOn Between eRectile dysfunction and coronary Artery disease (COBRA) trial tested the hypothesis that the ED rate differs in CAD patients according to the clinical presentation (acute vs. chronic coronary syndromes) and the extent of vessel involvement (one vs. two to three vessel disease)15 (Figure 3). The overall ED prevalence in CAD patients was 47%, whereas in the normal coronary angiography group the ED rate was 24%. When separately considered, the ED rate was 22% in patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and one-vessel disease and 55 and 65% in patients with ACS and multi-vessel disease and with chronic coronary syndrome, respectively. The study also showed that both severity (IIEF <10) and duration (>24 months) of ED were predictive of severe coronary involvement at angiography. This study offers pathophysiological and mechanistic explanations related to the clinical setting. In patients with multi-vessel disease, regardless of the clinical presentation, the advanced coronary and systemic atherosclerosis is the reason for the high rate of ED. However, in the setting of acute myocardial infarction with one-vessel disease, ED is far less frequent because the atherosclerotic burden is modest (i.e. abrupt occlusion of a single non-obstructing plaque in the absence of extensive atherosclerosis) in both the coronary and penile circulations.15,16
* Low-risk patients include those with complete revascularization (eg, via coronary artery bypass grafting, stenting, or angioplasty), patients with asymptomatic controlled hypertension, those with mild valvular disease, and patients with left ventricular dysfunction/heart failure (NYHA classes I and II) who achieved 5 metabolic equivalents of the task METS without ischemia on recent exercise testing.

Perk J,  De Backer G,  Gohlke H,  Graham I,  Reiner Z,  Verschuren WM,  Albus C,  Benlian P,  Boysen G,  Cifkova R,  Deaton C,  Ebrahim S,  Fisher M,  Germano G,  Hobbs R,  Hoes A,  Karadeniz S,  Mezzani A,  Prescott E,  Ryden L,  Scherer M,  Syvänne M,  Scholte Op Reimer WJ,  Vrints C,  Wood D,  Zamorano JL,  Zannad F. European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice (version 2012). The Fifth Joint Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and Other Societies on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice (constituted by representatives of nine societies and by invited experts). Developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation (EACPR), Eur Heart J , 2012, vol. 33 (pg. 1635-1701)https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehs092


When it comes to scientific development, in Western medicine, an analytic approach is often used to identify and resolve medical challenges. A hypothesis is first derived through general observations of a phenomenon. A research plan is then carefully designed and data collected. Once sufficient data is collected, critical statistical evaluations are done and conclusions are drawn (4). Every aspects of a disease entity are studied from macroscopic to microscopic views, down to the cellular and molecular levels. The deep understanding of the role of cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type 5 enzymes in ED and the use of phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors in treatment of ED exemplifies the success of this approach.
Perk J,  De Backer G,  Gohlke H,  Graham I,  Reiner Z,  Verschuren WM,  Albus C,  Benlian P,  Boysen G,  Cifkova R,  Deaton C,  Ebrahim S,  Fisher M,  Germano G,  Hobbs R,  Hoes A,  Karadeniz S,  Mezzani A,  Prescott E,  Ryden L,  Scherer M,  Syvänne M,  Scholte Op Reimer WJ,  Vrints C,  Wood D,  Zamorano JL,  Zannad F. European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice (version 2012). The Fifth Joint Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and Other Societies on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice (constituted by representatives of nine societies and by invited experts). Developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation (EACPR), Eur Heart J , 2012, vol. 33 (pg. 1635-1701)https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehs092
Testosterone therapy in hypogonadism modulates metabolic components associated with CV risk. The majority of prospective clinical studies indicates that treatment achieving testosterone levels within physiological limits has beneficial or neutral effects on a lipid profile other than HDL-C, beneficial or neutral effects on inflammatory mediators, and generally beneficial effects on glycaemic state.25 The lean body mass is typically increased in hypogonadal subjects, and visceral adiposity is decreased in several studies and unchanged in the remainder. Such metabolic effects have raised interest on the potential impact on cardiovascular health. Regarding symptoms in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure) TTh has been either neutral or beneficial.25 Regarding CVD risk, available clinical trial data indicate that the use of testosterone in middle-aged to elderly men does not increase cardiovascular risk25 with the exception of one study in very frail (substantial limitation of mobility and a high rate of comorbidities) elderly subjects that used an off-label high, and rapid escalation, dosing regimen.46 Prospective data from large, well-designed, long-term trials of TTh are warranted.

Vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is the main cause of sexual dysfunction in untreated hypertensive patients. However, due to the complex etiologic and pathophysiologic nature of sexual dysfunction, exclusion of concomitant diseases and drugs should be the initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with this clinical condition that is not receiving any antihypertensive medication. Consequently, a significant amount of neurological, psychiatric, urologic and endocrine disorders should be ruled out before vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is diagnosed.


In subsequent clinical studies, a surprisingly high percentage of EDDM patients–10% to 20%–claimed that the placebo "improved my erections," thus indicating a psychological basis for their ED. In the latter half of the 1980s, objective means were developed that could help determine if a EDDM patient had organic or psychogenic ED. The absence of rigid sleep erections confirmed by penile monitors was one criterion for organic ED. The failure of vasoactive agents (papaverine, Trimix, or prostaglandin E-1 [PGE-1]) injected into the corpora cavernosa to induce penile rigidity was another criterion for organic disease. Intracavernosal maintenance flow rates during pharmacocavernosometry and maximum cavernosal arterial flow during penile Doppler ultrasonography were additional determinants.
ED is a common disease affecting men with IHD. Endothelial dysfunction is the link between ED and IHD and both diseases share the same aetiology, risk factors and pathogenesis. Aggressive control of these risk factors – along with lifestyle modification – is recommended to improve symptoms of ED and reduce cardiovascular risk. PDE5 inhibitors remain the first-choice treatment for ED in IHD patients and they have been shown to be safe and effective. However, PDE5 inhibitors can potentiate the hypotensive effect of nitrates so concomitant administration of sildenafil and nitrates is contraindicated. Gene and stem cell therapy are being investigated as a future therapies for ED.
Finally, prevalence rates will be affected by whether the study population is accrued from a single hospital/clinic setting or from a more general population of men with diabetes. For example, Siu et al.4 studied 500 Chinese diabetic men (of which 97% had type 2 disease) seen at a single medical clinic in Hong Kong during 1999 and found the overall prevalence of ED to be 63.6%. Contrast this to Fedele et al.,5 who studied 9,756 diabetic men accrued from 178 diabetes centers in Italy. Among the 8,373 men with type 2 diabetes, only 37% reported ED, considerably less than in the Chinese study.
Currently, the preferred treatment for erectile dysfunction includes sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis). However, numerous experts have raised concerns about the use of these drugs in patients with chronic heart failure who also take nitrates (or other medications that relax and widen blood vessels). This drug combination has been shown to be dangerous, because it can increase the risk for a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.
In men without cardiovascular disease, erectile dysfunction (ED) pills are very safe. The three rivals -- Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra -- have similar side effects, including headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, diarrhea, backache, and, in a few Viagra or Levitra users, temporary impaired color vision (men with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease, should check with their ophthalmologists before using these medications).
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).
Finding a potential early sign of heart disease is vital: Every minute in the United States someone dies from a heart disease-related event. Doctors know to watch for risks like obesity and high blood pressure; however, Men’s Health reports 50 percent of men who die from heart disease have never had one of these symptoms. For younger men, treating ED as an indicator of heart health could be a lifesaver.

Eastern medicine should be fully exploited, and integrated with modern medicine to combine the advantages of both TCM and Western medicine. More research should be conducted into the efficacy and safety of TCM, and integration of TCM and Western medicine may provide promising breakthroughs in future clinical treatment. This strategy may allow for the development of new therapeutic strategies based on concepts of TCM and integrated medicine. There is a need for multimodal therapy and holistic approach to treat men (and their partners) with ED through complementary use of herbal supplements and modern drug to optimize underlying medical comorbidities; acupuncture, exercise or massage to reduce stress and strengthen the body; introduction and escalation of various medical therapy with use of mechanical therapy to further enhance penile erection; and lastly surgical intervention in suboptimal or refractory ED cases.
When it comes to boosting sexual performance, many men will walk all over God’s green earth looking for ways to maintain a good sex life. Luckily men, all you have to do is walk — not run — 2 miles a day. This, along with other healthier lifestyle interventions can help obese men reduce their risk of ED, or even “reverse” current impotence, according to a 2005 study. This comes of importance, since maintaining a trim waistline is a good defense for ED, as men with a 42-inch waist are 50 percent more likely to have ED than those with a 32-inch waist. Getting to a healthy weight and maintaining it is a good strategy for preventing and treating ED.
If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (1) | Google ScholarSee all References Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors also have low rates of secondary ED associated with their use in both animal and human studies.45x45Srilatha, B, Adaikan, PG, Arulkumaran, S, and Ng, SC. Sexual dysfunction related to antihypertensive agents: results from the animal model. Int J Impot Res. 1999; 11: 107–113
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitrates have only modest antianginal effects and offer no prognostic benefit for mild recurrent angina or unstable angina. Therefore, such anginal symptoms occurring after sildenafil use should be treated with other nonnitrate antianginal agents such as β-blockers.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N

The medications used to treat high blood pressure do not take into account the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, as their intention is to lower the blood pressure to a more manageable state, reducing the stress put on blood vessels. High blood pressure and ED are seen as separate entities, with the former taking priority for pharmaceutical treatment. This means that the medications used might do nothing to cure erectile dysfunction and may, in fact, prolong it. Medications that lower blood pressure might actually cause a low blood pressure state in the groin area and the arteries supplying the penis, making it near impossible to achieve an erection. The following are examples of such medications:


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (395) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil has no effect on bleeding time or prothrombin time when used either alone or in patients taking aspirin or warfarin.61x61Nehra, A, Colreavy, F, Khandheria, BK, and Chandrasekaran, K. Sildenafil citrate, a selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor: urologic and cardiovascular implications. World J Urol. 2001; 19: 40–45
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, α-blockers are a well-known cause of retrograde ejaculation secondary to a reversible relaxation of bladder neck smooth muscle.50x50Meinhardt, W, Kropman, RF, Vermeij, P, Nijeholt, AA, and Zwartendijk, J. The influence of medication on erectile function. Int J Impot Res. 1997; 9: 17–26
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References All these men had ED and twice underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle exercise echocardiography 1 hour after taking either sildenafil (50 mg or 100 mg) or placebo. This study found no significant changes in resting heart rate, diastolic blood pressure level, or wall motion score index, and the exercise capacity of the 2 groups was similar. Both groups had similar numbers of patients who experienced dyspnea and/or chest pain, had a positive exercise echocardiographic test, and had exercise-induced wall motion abnormalities. Sildenafil caused a mean decrease of 7 mm Hg in the resting systolic blood pressure level compared with the placebo group. In conclusion, this study showed that in patients with stable coronary artery disease, sildenafil caused no change in symptoms, exercise endurance, or presence/extent of exercise-induced ischemia as measured by exercise echocardiography.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Open-label trials showed a myocardial infarction rate of only 1.0 event per 1000 person-years of treatment with sildenafil.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is found predominantly in the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa but can be found in smaller quantities in platelets and other vascular smooth muscle.56x56Wallis, RM, Corbin, JD, Francis, SH, and Ellis, P. Tissue distribution of phosphodiesterase families and the effects of sildenafil on tissue cyclic nucleotides, platelet function, and the contractile responses of trabeculae carneae and aortic rings in vitro. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 3C–12C

Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
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