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.
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.
Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33

Getting frequent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are, of course, also important. Plus, avoiding or minimizing risky dietary factors such as salt, alcohol, caffeine, and too much animal products is crucial. Animal protein elevates insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the blood, a growth-promoting hormone that is associated with increased risk of several cancers and cardiovascular disease.19, 20
The links between hypertension and ED are increasingly recognized and the 2009 re-appraisal of European guidelines includes relevant statements.35,47 Erectile dysfunction is almost twice as frequent in hypertensive as in normotensive individuals and appears to be of higher severity. The relative risk of developing ED in hypertensive patients compared with normotensive individuals ranges from 1.3 to 6.9. Regarding pathophysiology, hypertension appears to cause ED per se, through a multitude of mechanisms that include prolonged exposure to elevated levels of systemic blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction, and circulation of vasoactive substance (with a pivotal role of angiotensin II) that lead to structural and functional alterations in the penile arteries. The largely unfounded (see earlier paragraph) notoriety of antihypertensive treatment for causing ED is one of the most predominant causes for non-adherence and discontinuation of antihypertensive therapy, and therefore, patients should be properly informed by physicians. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are effective in hypertensive patients with ED and they can safely be co-administered with antihypertensive medication.39 Specifically for alpha-blockers, low starting doses of PDE5 inhibitors are preferred in patients already on alpha-blocker treatment, and likewise, low starting doses of alpha-blockers are encouraged in patients taking PDE5 inhibitors. Of clinical significance is that hypertensive men with ED are more likely to comply with their antihypertensive medication when under PDE5 inhibitors.
27. Haahr MK, Jensen CH, Toyserkani NM, et al. Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine 2016;5:204-10. 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.01.024 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef]

Table 3Metabolic Equivalent (MET) Values for Various Physical Activities56x56Wallis, 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
However, population-based studies of ED in prostate cancer survivors also document that ED has a negative effect on general health. Penson, et al.36 studied HRQOL in 2,306 prostate cancer survivors 2 years after their diagnosis. They noted that men with ED (defined as erections that were insufficient for sexual intercourse) had significantly worse general HRQOL when compared to prostate cancer survivors who were potent. Importantly, this association remained in a multivariate analysis that controlled for 31 other potential confounding variables. Finally, this association was noted in both the physical and mental domains of general quality of life, indicating that ED has a much broader effect on quality of life than one might expect.
ED almost always has an organic or mixed etiology in diabetic men. This often results in diabetic men reporting more severe ED when they present for treatment of this condition. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that diabetic men's responses to standard therapy for ED differ from those of the general population of men with ED.38 We, therefore, will now briefly review the literature regarding effectiveness of various ED therapies specifically in diabetic men.

In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.
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.
Although ED can become a permanent condition, this typically isn’t the case for men who experience occasional erectile difficulties. If you have diabetes, you may still be able to overcome ED through a lifestyle that includes sufficient sleep, no smoking, and stress reduction. ED medications are usually well-tolerated, and can be used for many years to help overcome any ED problems.
A significant proportion (ranging from ∼60 to 90%) of heart failure patients report ED and marked decrease in sexual interest, with ultimately one-quarter reporting cessation of sexual activity altogether.48 Erectile dysfunction contributes further to the poor quality of life and aggravates depression. Of interest, many heart failure patients place a greater importance on improving the quality of life (including sexual activity) than on improving survival. Sexual function correlates with the symptomatic status (i.e. NYHA functional class and 6-minute walk test).48 In the Evaluation of Role of Sexual Dysfunction in the Saarland (EROSS) Program, left ventricular dysfunction was a risk factor for ED independent of heart failure symptoms. While heart failure and ED share common pre-disposing risk factors, heart failure by itself can cause ED or affect engagement to sexual activity. Neurohumoral activation, medication (thiazides), limited exercise capacity, and depression are responsible.49
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
In TCM, the meridian system is thought to represent a path through which the life energy qi flows and as discussed in earlier section, the “Jing” (kidney) qi plays an important role in penile erection. Acupuncture helps to correct the imbalances to relieve physical symptoms by stimulating various meridian points. The Shensu (BL23), Zusanli (ST36) and Neiguan (PC6) points represents important acupoints for penis stimulation and thus has a positive homeostatic effect on the autonomic nervous system, and potentially modulate NO release (55,56). While some studies have showed up to a third of patients reported improvement in penile erection and sexual activity, systematic review showed insufficient data to conclude that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED (56,57). Therefore, further scientific research is required to investigate whether there are specific benefits of acupuncture for men with ED before acupuncture can be accepted as evidence-based practice.

Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), elevations in blood lipids or cholesterol are considered blood vessel problems and have all been associated with Erectile Dysfunction. The blood vessel abnormalities caused by these diseases affect vessels throughout the body and often produce other symptoms of vascular diseases. Diabetics and patients with hypertension frequently have heart disease. These conditions typically interfere with the ability of the penile vessels to work properly and ultimately cause ED.
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).
Keep your stress level down. Stress can interfere with sexual arousal and your ability to get an erection. Exercise, meditation, and setting aside time to do the things that you enjoy can help to keep your stress levels down and lessen your risk of ED. If you’re developing symptoms of anxiety or depression, consult your doctor. They may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help you work through anything that is causing you stress.
Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.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
More than 11 million people in the United States have cardiovascular disease, and each year, about 500,000 survive a myocardial infarction. These patients often seek counseling on their relative risk of resuming sexual activity. In the past, it was often assumed that if a patient could climb 2 flights of stairs without symptoms, it was safe for the patient to engage in sexual activity.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
Andersson said the results came as a surprise because erectile dysfunction is associated with an increased risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy men. However, previous studies have associated the use of PDE5 inhibitors with a decreased blood pressure in the left ventricle, which reduces the amount of work required to pump blood and therefore could help explain why the drugs might benefit people with heart failure. PDE5 inhibitors were initially developed to treat angina, a type of chest pain that results from constricted arteries.
Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others.The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
Diabetes is known to sabotage two body parts that provide essential components of an erection: nerves and blood vessels. Studies suggest that diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) is the most important risk factor for ED in people with diabetes. If pelvic nerves that trigger penis muscles to relax are impaired, there may be a break in the chain between brain and penis, disrupting erection. Some researchers suspect that an inadequate supply of oxygen to the nerves causes this damage.
Although ED is a common complication of diabetes, its effect on quality of life is not well understood. Recent work for the Exploratory Comprehensive Evaluation of Erectile Dysfunction (ExCEED) database demonstrates that in the general population of patients presenting to their urologist, ED negatively affects both general and disease-specific health-related quality of life (HRQOL).35 While this study provides insight into the detrimental affect of ED on quality of life, the cohort is somewhat selected, in that all of the patients were seen in sexual dysfunction clinics and therefore may have been more likely to be bothered by their condition and to report worse quality of life.

Owing to its delicate nature, discussion about the sexual life of the patient is effective not on a circumstantial visit to the doctor, but on the basis of confidence between the patient and the physician, as is usually the case with the cardiologist. Thus, the cardiologist is given a unique opportunity to identify ED and thus ‘recharacterize’ the risk of the patient. In addition, since normal sexual activity is important to most men with CVD, irrespective of age, the cardiologist can clarify issues that relate to such activity after a cardiac event or to a specific cardiac condition (e.g. heart failure). Often, such issues are hampered by misconceptions from the side of the patient. Therefore, while less than half of the patients receive information about resuming sexual activity after a cardiac event, proper counselling increases their likelihood to resume their previous level of sexual activity by 50%.50 Furthermore, the cardiologist can increase adherence to the medication by clarifying that it is uncommonly the true cause of ED. Finally, proper counselling is required to ensure safety of concomitant PDE5 inhibitors medication, the use of which has the additional advantage to increase compliance to CVD mediation, especially in hypertension. It should be noted that while patients are often reluctant to bring up the issue of sexual health, they are relieved and respond positively when their cardiologist has done so. It should also be emphasized that, frequently, sexual counselling is more effective when done together with their partner.


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.

Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:


Older age. A man’s risk increases past the age of 40, as age is the variable most strongly associated with impotence. This is due to changing hormones, higher risk for heart problems and those affecting circulation, and decreased sexual desire that often occurs with increasing age. For example, based on findings from the National Health and Social Life Survey, it’s been found that “men between 50–60 years old are more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared to men aged 18 to 29 years.” (3)
According to the Mayo Clinic, oral medications are usually the first-line treatment for ED. Those medications include Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra). They operate by helping relax muscles in the penis by strengthening the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring chemical in the body. The drugs increase blood flow to allow patients to get an erection.
Cardiovascular disease remains our nation’s biggest killer, responsible for about one-third of deaths in the U.S.1 Erectile dysfunction (ED) is typically the first clinical manifestation of cardiovascular disease, making it a helpful early marker for men who are likely to die of heart attacks. There is a strong relationship between erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, heart attack and a premature death.2, 3
88. Böhm M, Baumhäkel M, Teo K, Sleight P, Probstfield J, Gao P, Mann JF, Diaz R, Dagenais GR, Jennings GL, et al. Erectile dysfunction predicts cardiovascular events in high-risk patients receiving telmisartan, ramipril, or both: The ONgoing Telmisartan Alone and in combination with Ramipril Global Endpoint Trial/Telmisartan Randomized AssessmeNt Study in ACE iNtolerant subjects with cardiovascular Disease (ONTARGET/TRANSCEND) Trials. Circulation. 2010;121:1439–1446. [PubMed]
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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with prior cardiac events should be encouraged to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation programs before restarting sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
Erectile dysfunction usually precedes cardiovascular events by 3 to 5 years. Therefore, sexual function should be incorporated into cardiovascular disease risk assessment for all men. Recently, algorithms for the management of patients with erectile dysfunction according to the risk for sexual activity and future cardiovascular events were proposed[91]. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) will result in significant benefits on overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling will exert beneficial effects on the quality of life of hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction and will improve adherence to antihypertensive drug therapy[91].
If the cause is believed to be organic but not hormonal, or if the patient defers psychological intervention, he can be offered the VCD or oral drug therapy. EDDM patients on organic nitrates or who have experienced or are concerned about potential adverse reaction to PDE-5 inhibitors are suitable candidates for the VCD. The VCD induces functional rigidity in 75% of patients with diabetes with autonomic neuropathy. Some patients or their partners may reject or discontinue the use of the VCD because it induces an unnatural erection, causes bruising and numbness of the penis, and or inhibits antegrade ejaculation.8
88. Böhm M, Baumhäkel M, Teo K, Sleight P, Probstfield J, Gao P, Mann JF, Diaz R, Dagenais GR, Jennings GL, et al. Erectile dysfunction predicts cardiovascular events in high-risk patients receiving telmisartan, ramipril, or both: The ONgoing Telmisartan Alone and in combination with Ramipril Global Endpoint Trial/Telmisartan Randomized AssessmeNt Study in ACE iNtolerant subjects with cardiovascular Disease (ONTARGET/TRANSCEND) Trials. Circulation. 2010;121:1439–1446. [PubMed]
Erectile dysfunction is very common as men age. Erectile dysfunction is frequently a sign of atherosclerosis, a clogging or narrowing of the blood vessels that causes heart attacks. Erectile dysfunction usually comes 3 to 5 years before a heart attack, so after ED is diagnosed, there is time to treat atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack. Treating atherosclerosis involves diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary. Talk with your doctor about a broken sex life, and you might be able to prevent a broken heart.
Another risk factor is that men with type 2 diabetes may produce less than normal amounts of testosterone, a condition called hypogonadism. A 2007 study found that one-third of men with type 2 diabetes had low testosterone levels. Those men were also more likely to have ED, though the link may have to do with weight, not diabetes per se. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for hypogonadism.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common disorder that affects the quality of life of many patients. It is prevalent in more than half of males aged over 60 years. Increasing evidence suggests that ED is predominantly a vascular disorder. Endothelial dysfunction seems to be the common pathological process causing ED. Many common risk factors for atherosclerosis such as diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia are prevalent in patients with ED and so management of these common cardiovascular risk factors can potentially prevent ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors provide short-term change of haemodynamic factors to help initiate and maintain penile erection. They have been shown to be an effective and safe treatment strategy for ED in patients with heart disease, including those with ischaemic heart disease and hypertension.
Some doctors prefer to start a man on the lowest dose of an oral medicine and increase the dose until an effective one is found. Others prefer to start with the highest dose and go to a lower dose only if a man complains of side effects. In either case, it’s important for a man to communicate with his doctor to let him know how the dose he’s using is working.
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