Erection is a neurovascular event that involves spinal and supra spinal pathways. The final common pathway involves the release of nitric oxide (NO) from both endothelial cells and neurons, which acts as a vasodilator causing penile engorgement and erection. NO is degraded by the enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE) type 5 in the penis. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, results when the neurovascular pathway is interrupted by medical conditions or drugs. A 15-item self-administered questionnaire, the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), is one of the most useful tools to evaluate erectile function (EF) in clinical trials, although of much less use in routine clinical practice. The MMAS (Massachusetts Male Aging Study) was the first major epidemiological investigation to study the prevalence of ED. The study found that ED was three times more common in patients with diabetes mellitus. The aetiopathogenesis of ED in diabetes is multifactorial, with vascular and neural factors being equally implicated. Hyperglycaemia is believed to give rise to biochemical perturbations that lead to these microvascular changes. In the MMAS, ED in diabetes was strongly correlated with glycaemic control, duration of disease and diabetic complications. The incidence increased with increasing age, duration of diabetes and deteriorating metabolic control, and was higher in individuals with type 2 diabetes than those with type 1.ED in men with diabetes often affects their quality of life and, as patients are often reluctant to come forward with their symptoms, a carefully taken history is one of the most useful approaches in identifying affected individuals. The PDE inhibitors have revolutionised the management of ED and oral drug therapy is currently first-line therapy for the condition. These agents act by potentiating the action of intracavernosal NO, thereby leading to a more sustained erection. Sildenafil was the first PDE5 inhibitor to undergo evaluation and has been studied extensively. More recently two other agents, vardenafil and tadalafil, have been introduced. All the drugs have been shown to be effective across a wide range of aetiologies of ED, including diabetes. The drugs have been shown to improve EF domain scores, penetration and maintenance of erection, resulting in more successful intercourse. Their effects are greater at higher doses. Sildenafil and vardenafil are shorter-acting agents, while tadalafil has a longer half-life allowing the user more flexibility in sexual activity. Common adverse effects include headache, nasal congestion and dyspepsia, all actions related to inhibition of PDE5. The drugs are generally well tolerated and withdrawal from the clinical studies as a result of drug-related adverse effects were rare. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the presence of oral nitrates is absolutely contraindicated. The clinical studies to date have not evaluated the use of one drug in the case of treatment failure with another agent. Sublingual apomorphine, which stimulates central neurogenic pathways, is a new agent and may be a suitable alternative in those patients in whom PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective or contraindicated. In clinical trials, all IIEF domains except sexual desire were found to have improved after apomorphine. The median times to erection in these studies were 18.9 and 18.8 minutes for the 2 and 3mg doses, respectively. Intraurethral and intracavernosal alprostadil may be a useful alternative when oral drug therapy is ineffective or contraindicated. The management of ED in the diabetic patient may often involve a multidisciplinary approach where psychosexual counselling and specialist urologist advice is required in addition to the skills and expertise of the diabetologist. Finally, the introduction of the new oral agents have completely revolutionised the management of ED and allowed more individuals to come forward for treatment.
There are other treatment options for erectile dysfunction (ED). Alprostadil is a medication that improves blood flow to the penis and improves erections. It can be given either by injection (Caverject and other brands) at the base of the penis or by putting an alprostadil gel (brand name MUSE) directly into the urethra, using a thin tube and a little lubricant so it slides in easily. The medicine is absorbed from the lining of the urethra into the surrounding tissues. The shot is less appealing to most people, of course, but more effective.
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.
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study of 1,290 men, aged 40–70 years, has documented the extraordinarily high prevalence of erectile dysfunction among aging men: 50% of men at 50 years of age, and 70% by age 70 have erectile dysfunction.2 Furthermore, a recent Italian study of men with severe heart disease has uncovered an astounding 93% with erectile dysfunction 24 months before their heart attack or onset of heart disease symptoms.3
Testosterone therapy (TTh) should be reserved for patients who (i) are symptomatic (ED or reduced libido) of testosterone deficiency45 and (ii) they have biochemical evidence of low testosterone (TT <8 nmol/L or 2.3 ng/mL). In men with borderline TT (8–12 nmol/L or 2.3–3.5 ng/mL), a TTh trial (for 3–6 months and continuation if effective) may be envisaged. While adding a PDE5 inhibitor can be considered in men who have not improved with TTh, the usual clinical scenario is to add TTh in patients who have not responded to PDE5 inhibitors. Improvement is dependent on the testosterone levels with better results being obtained at lower levels of TT.45 Despite evidence of benefit in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure), it should be emphasized that TTh is not a medication with cardiovascular indications.
Sexual intercourse is an infrequent cause of myocardial infarction. In a study of 1774 patients after myocardial infarction, only 1.5% of these events occurred within 2 hours of sexual intercourse, and sexual activity was considered a direct contributing factor in 0.9%.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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Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References In a prospective review of 3250 men aged 26 to 83 years without ED at their first examination, total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels were found to be strongly predictive of onset of ED after controlling for age, diabetes mellitus, stress level, cardiovascular disease, and prostate disease.25x25Wei, M, Macera, CA, Davis, DR, Hornung, CA, Nankin, HR, and Blair, SN. Total cholesterol and high density lipoprotein cholesterol as important predictors of erectile dysfunction. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 930–937
Now that we better appreciate the complex sequence of events necessary for erections to occur, it’s no surprise that testosterone alone yields less than perfect results. Erectile dysfunction represents more than just low testosterone, which is just one facet of the spectrum of dysfunctional phenomena that cause sexual dysfunction. Nonetheless, when testosterone is combined with popular drugs like Viagra®, success is enhanced to an even greater degree—orgasmic function improves, along with erectile capacity and libido.20 Testosterone also activates penile nitric oxide; ultrasound studies have demonstrated a 27% increase in arterial blood flow into the penis with testosterone supplementation.23
Research is mixed on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an erectile dysfunction cure, but one study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References The 9-year follow-up MMAS study also found that self-reported increased cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake correlated positively with the development of ED.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
Some blood pressure medicines can also cause erectile dysfunction. Thiazide diuretics and beta-blockers are most likely to cause problems, but this is not a common effect of these medicines and will not happen to everyone. If you are taking either of these medicines and are worried about erectile dysfunction, your GP may be able to change your medicines.
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
 Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED. 
The blood supply to your penis starts in your heart and flows through arteries in the belly to even smaller arteries that branch off to carry blood into the penis. With sexual stimulation, these blood vessels need to rapidly increase blood flow. If these blood vessels are blocked (atherosclerosis) by coronary artery disease, you may not be able to achieve or maintain an erection.11
Sexual dysfunction is a common, underappreciated complication of diabetes. Male sexual dysfunction among diabetic patients can include disorders of libido, ejaculatory problems, and erectile dysfunction (ED). All three forms of male dysfunction can cause significant bother for diabetic patients and can affect their quality of life. Despite this, health care providers often do not specifically ask their male diabetic patients about sexual function. This results in considerable underdiagnosis because patients are often reluctant or embarrassed to initiate discussion of these issues themselves. By not recognizing sexual dysfunction as a common organic sequel-lae of diabetes that should be addressed and treated, providers are missing an important opportunity to improve their patients' daily existence and quality of life.
As you get older, your risk of both ED and heart disease increases. But the connection between these conditions is stronger among younger men, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you experience ED under the age of 50, it’s more likely to be a sign of underlying heart problems. If you experience it after the age of 70, it’s much less likely to be linked to heart disease.

There are many alternative treatments that may be used to treat erectile dysfunction, although their effectiveness hasn't been proven. Men may benefit from acupuncture to reduce stress and help treat erectile dysfunction. Some people claim that herbal supplements such as Korean red ginseng, ginkgo, and yohimbine may be helpful for treating erectile dysfunction. Other helpful supplements for treating erectile dysfunction may include DHEA (a hormone in testosterone) and L-arginine. However, it's important to remember that these and other supplements may actually contain harmful substances, so talk with your doctor before taking supplements for treating erectile dysfunction.
Counselling or sex therapy (58% of people find this works for them) –mind-related causes of erectile dysfunction can affect anyone. They are more likely if you experience erectile dysfunction at a younger age. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help some people overcome erectile dysfunction related to these problems, possibly for good. They can also help you if your erectile dysfunction is causing you stress, as this can make matters worse.

Stream a variety of exercise routines to get you moving and motivated! GlucoseZone™ is a digital exercise program that provides you with personalized exercise guidance and support designed to help you achieve the diabetes and fitness results you want. American Diabetes Association members receive an exclusive discount on their GlucoseZone subscription when they sign up using their ADA member ID!
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Withdrawal of sexual stimulation causes a return of sympathetic tone and degradation of cGMP, predominantly by phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) within the trabecular smooth muscle.11x11Nehra, A. Intracavernosal therapy: when oral agents fail. Curr Urol Rep. 2001; 2: 468–472
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact. 
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.

Based on this testing, EDDM patients were treated with behavioral therapy, intracavernosal (papaverine, PGE-1, or Trimix) or intraurethral PGE-1, a vacuum constriction device (VCD), or implantation of a penile prosthesis. Novel surgical procedures, ligation of incompetent cavernosal veins or penile revascularization, were seldom efficacious with EDDM and were soon abandoned. Although these nonsurgical therapies were efficacious, they were not widely requested because of their invasive or mechanical nature.
Despite the existing controversies, available data so far imply the old generation b-blockers (e.g., propranolol) as the major culprits for sexual dysfunction with the newer ones (carvedilol, celiprolol) to exert a less pronounced negative effect[21-24]. A luminous exception to the rule, nebivolol, is a newer agent of its class which significantly ameliorates erectile dysfunction through increased nitric oxide generation, an effect consistently demonstrated in recent studies[25,26]. Diuretics, even on adjunct therapy, constitute another antihypertensive agent negatively associated with sexual function[27-29]. On the other hand, calcium antagonists and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors seem to demonstrate a neutral effect[30-32]. Interestingly, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) by blocking the vasoconstrictive action of angiotensin II seem to positively affect erectile function and are thus regarded as a first-line treatment in hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction[22,25,33-35].
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).
Treatments might be slightly different for different people, depending on their risk factors, but in general all treatment plans have similar elements: diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary (see the Table). Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of the treatment of atherosclerosis. Every diet should include low salt (especially for high blood pressure), low fat and cholesterol (especially for high cholesterol), and limited total calories (especially for patients who are overweight). People with diabetes mellitus should limit their intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise helps to limit atherosclerosis. The more exercise, the better, but every little bit helps. The general recommendation is 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Check with your doctor to be sure that an exercise program is safe for you. Cigarettes cause a variety of health problems, including atherosclerosis, so cigarette smoking should be stopped. If diet and exercise are not enough to control your atherosclerotic risk factors, then your doctor will prescribe medications. Heart attacks are prevented by controlling atherosclerotic risk factors, which means diet, exercise, and medications if necessary.

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.


Surgery for erectile dysfunction is usually considered only after all other options have failed. The two surgical options include the insertion of a semi-rigid rod or the implantation of a three-piece inflatable prosthesis. Penile prosthesis implantation has low infection, complication, and malfunction rates. However, since placement of an implant requires permanent injury to the erectile tissue of the penis, implant treatment is considered irreversible.
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