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According to the Cleveland Clinic, “because erectile dysfunction is caused by a complex set of psychosocial, neurologic, and vascular factors, a specific cause in a patient may remain ambiguous.” The root causes are often related to a blockage or dysfunction of blood vessels. For example, ED can be due to conditions like atherosclerosis or diabetes, hormonal imbalances or problems related to mental health. It’s been found that common causes typically include one or more of the following factors: (2)
In the past 6 years, the FDA has approved three oral agents for the treatment of ED: sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. All three are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors and work by potentiating the effect of nitric oxide in the penis. In particular, they block the hydrolysis of cyclic guanosine monophosphate to guanosine 5'-monophosphate, thus enhancing nitric oxide–mediated smooth muscle relaxation, increasing blood flow to the penis and facilitating erection.

Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.


Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References A 1985 study found that ED accounted for 400,000 outpatient visits and 30,000 hospital admissions per year in the United States, with a direct total cost of $146 million.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
The 12-week study of 164 men, all with hypertension, was divided into 2 groups of 82, one group with sexual dysfunction, the other group reported normal sexual functioning. Both groups took losartan in dosages of 50 to 100 milligrams daily for the 12 weeks of the study. In the group of men with sexual dysfunction, 88 percent reported improvement in at least one area of sexual function and 73.7% reported an improved quality of life.
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
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

Deer velvet is a covering found on the growing bone and cartilage of deer’s antlers. In Eastern medicine, deer velvet is sought after for its Chinese medicinal properties which include boosting one’s endurance and improving one’s immunity. People have also used deer velvet as an aphrodisiac or to treat ED. The randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study on deer velvet by Conaglen et al. (31), no benefit but this study was underpowered involving healthy participants with no sexual dysfunction.
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Other candidate mechanisms linking ED and cigarette smoking include hypercoagulability and increased platelet aggregation, increased release of free fatty acids and catecholamines, changes in NO synthetic pathways, and a possible direct toxic effect on vascular endothelium.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
Nehra A,  Jackson G,  Miner M,  Billups KL,  Burnett AL,  Buvat J,  Carson CC,  Cunningham GR,  Ganz P,  Goldstein I,  Guay AT,  Hackett G,  Kloner RA,  Kostis J,  Montorsi P,  Ramsey M,  Rosen R,  Sadovsky R,  Seftel AD,  Shabsigh R,  Vlachopoulos C,  Wu FC. The Princeton III Consensus recommendations for the management of erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, Mayo Clin Proc , 2012, vol. 87 (pg. 766-778)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.06.015

The authors observe that multiple factors may be involved. In addition to decreased exercise capacity, patients with chronic heart failure have blood vessel and circulation abnormalities that can reduce blood flow into the penis and interfere with the ability to maintain an erection. And erectile dysfunction can be caused or worsened by many of the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat chronic heart failure.


The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of hims, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

If you bike a lot and have a very narrow saddle on your bicycle, consider switching to a "no-nose seat" which is wider at the back than a conventional saddle, allowing more of your weight to be distributed to the sitting bones. Make sure the seat is level or angled slightly downward and at a height that allows your knee to be just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal cycle. Raising the handlebars on your bike so that you're sitting upright may also help.
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.
These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine's effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects. Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor's supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
ED is generally associated with significant changes in established cardiovascular risk factors. Atherosclerosis is the main cause of ED development in both the general population and patients with diabetes. However, the prevalence of ED is greater in patients with diabetes than in the general population.8 ED has been shown to occur at rates as high as 50 % in patients with CAD.9 A meta-analysis of 12 prospective cohort studies has provided evidence that ED is a predictor of IHD associated with an increased risk of CVD, stroke and all-cause mortality.10
Taking one of these tablets will not automatically produce an erection. Sexual stimulation is needed first to cause the release of nitric oxide from your penile nerves. These medications amplify that signal, allowing some men to function normally. Oral erectile dysfunction medications are not aphrodisiacs, will not cause excitement and are not needed in men who get normal erections.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (165) | Google ScholarSee all References Typically, the response to sexual activity is no more than an increase in heart rate to 130 beats/min and an increase in systolic blood pressure level to 170 mm Hg.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
Table 3 is a suggested algorithm for the assessment of patients and their further categorization and handling. There are parts of investigation that are common for patients both with and without CVD, while additional elements of investigation are helpful in categorizing the patient without CVD to the appropriate risk category. Determination of exercise ability and stress testing is crucial to the assessment (see also below ‘Exercise ability: the risk of sexual activity’). Patients without established CVD or diabetes should be evaluated for their risk of future events according to risk scores (SCORE or Framingham). Patients with established CVD or diabetes are by default considered at increased risk. Patients with adequate exercise ability or a negative stress test can initiate or resume sexual activity and begin treatment for ED. In patients with a positive stress test or in high-risk patients, sexual activity should be deferred until the cardiac condition has been treated and stabilized. In all cases, patient follow-up and reassessment is recommended.

The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.

These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.


Logically, ED secondary to testosterone deficiency should be treated by testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels in men decrease with age.4 Both epidemiological and observational studies have demonstrated that reduced testosterone is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. One meta-analysis showed lower testosterone and higher 17β oestradiol as significant risk predictors despite adjustment for age and body mass index.4 Patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) have been found to have lower testosterone levels than controls, and there is inverse correlation between testosterone and the incidence of major cardiovascular disease (CVD).4 A significant negative correlation has been reported between total testosterone levels and Framingham risk score.4 However, it has been pointed out that ‘It is unclear if this is a causal association or due to low testosterone being a biomarker of poor health’.4 Testosterone replacement as a treatment for …
To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.

Evaluation of functional capacity is the mainstay for the management of patients with ED.30 However, it should be kept in mind that in men with heart failure sexual activity may affect the heart differently from physical activity of similar METS due to differences in psychological anticipation and sympathetic activation.30,49 Cardiac echocardiography may offer valuable information for left ventricular performance and valvular function. For risk categories of heart failure patients and their management, please refer to Table 3 and Figure 5.
Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (528) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil also has good efficacy in patients with ischemic heart disease, as shown by a retrospective subanalysis of data from 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies involving 3672 patients with ED and ischemic heart disease who were not taking nitrates.59x59Kloner, RA. Cardiovascular risk and sildenafil. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 57F–61F
Co-authors Stacy Mandras, M.D., Patricia Uber, Pharm. D., and Mandeep Mehra, M.D., conducted systematic independent literature searches using the MEDLINE database and examined a broad range of medical research that focused on chronic heart failure, sexual activity and sexual dysfunction. This literature included data from patient surveys and clinical trials.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (71) | Google ScholarSee all References However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 22 middle-aged men with hypercholesterolemia treated for 6 weeks with pravastatin or lovastatin showed improved erectile function with both medications.54x54Kostis, JB, Rosen, RC, and Wilson, AC. Central nervous system effects of HMG CoA reductase inhibitors: lovastatin and pravastatin on sleep and cognitive performance in patients with hypercholesterolemia. J Clin Pharmacol. 1994; 34: 989–996
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Hemodynamic stress also may cause rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque resulting in angina, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F

DHEA is a hormone made by the human body. It’s a building block for testosterone. According to a study published in Urology, this supplement may be able to help men whose ED is related to having low testosterone. However, there’s no definitive evidence of this benefit. It’s clear that DHEA can cause various side effects, including liver damage and acne. Long-term use of DHEA can also cause hormonal imbalances.
Admitting to your doctor that you are having trouble achieving an erection can be difficult, but take comfort in the fact that they are not judging you and are there to improve your health and well-being. If you are just beginning a blood pressure treatment regimen and are beginning to experience erectile dysfunction, tell your doctor as soon as you can—they can solve the problem by simply changing the prescription.
Having ED means that all, most, or some of the time, the penis fails to become or stay hard enough for sexual intercourse. If, on rare occasions, you cannot get an erection, you do not have ED. You also do not have ED if you have a decrease in sexual desire, have premature ejaculation, or if you fail to ejaculate or reach orgasm. ED means that you can’t get or keep an erection.
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:
And diabetes affects more than the blood system. “Diabetes also results in nerve dysfunction and, in the penile shaft, [eventually] the muscle starts to atrophy and is replaced by scar tissue or collagen rather than smooth muscle. That’s the ultimate end result in men,” explains urologist Ajay Nehra, MD, professor of urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. That scenario — damage to all the tissues that support your penis — is what could happen if you do not get and keep your diabetes under control.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a randomized placebo-controlled trial of 65 patients given either placebo or 95 mg/d of sustained-release metoprolol for 4 months after percutaneous coronary angioplasty found no significant difference in sexual function between the 2 groups.44x44Franzen, D, Metha, A, Seifert, N, Braun, M, and Hopp, HW. Effects of beta-blockers on sexual performance in men with coronary heart disease: a prospective, randomized and double blinded study. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 348–351

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil is absorbed rapidly, and peak plasma levels of 127 to 560 ng/mL are seen in a fasting state approximately 1 hour (range, 0.5-2 hours) after ingestion.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
Intraurethral alprostadil (Muse) provides a less invasive alternative to intrapenile injection. It is a pellet that is inserted 5–10 min before intercourse, and its effects last for 1 h. The response rate is ∼50–60%. It can be used twice daily but is not recommended for use with pregnant partners. Complications of priapism and penile fibrosis are less common than after alprostadil given by penile injection. The cost is ∼$18–24 per treatment.
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 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
Three longitudinal studies have estimated incidence rates of ED in men with diabetes. Unfortunately, none of these studies specifically examined men with type 2 disease. In a cohort of 278 diabetic men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes potent at study entry, the proportion of patients reporting ED at 5-year follow-up was 28%.7 A follow-up analysis of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, a community-based cohort of men between 40 and 70 years of age, found that the incidence of ED in the diabetic men was 51/1,000 population-years.8 This figure was similar to the 68/1,000 person-years crude incidence rate of ED reported in a study of 1,010 men with diabetes.5 However, new studies need to be carried out in well-characterized populations of men with diabetes in order to better determine the incidence of ED and potential effects of interventions to reduce complications.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References After adjusting for age, vascular disease, psychiatric disease, hormonal factors, and marital status, a study of 4462 US Army veterans aged 31 to 49 years found an odds ratio of 1.8 for the risk of developing ED in men who smoked.26x26Mannino, DM, Klevens, RM, and Flanders, WD. Cigarette smoking: an independent risk factor for impotence?. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 1003–1008
How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
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.

In addition, when research has shown a nutrient such as zinc or niacin to improve sexual function, it's usually in people who are deficient in it. So, before you stock up on over-the-counter nutritional supplements for ED, speak with your doctor. He can test you for deficiencies and steer you toward the most effective and safest way to treat your erectile dysfunction. 


PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a study of 132 patients evaluated by penile duplex ultrasonography after intracorporeal papaverine injection found that hypertension alone was not an independent risk factor for vasculogenic ED.34x34Shabsigh, R, Fishman, IJ, Schum, C, and Dunn, JK. Cigarette smoking and other vascular risk factors in vasculogenic impotence. Urology. 1991; 38: 227–231
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (16) | Google ScholarSee all References These medications cause intracavernosal pressure changes in animal models, and human studies have noted deleterious effects on erectile function, decreased libido, and ejaculatory problems.42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082

A substantial body of literature documents the prevalence of ED in men with diabetes. Unfortunately, the majority of these studies do not distinguish between type 1 and type 2 disease, and, therefore, it is difficult to determine if prevalence rates between the two forms of diabetes differ significantly. Acknowledging this limitation in the literature, prevalence estimates of ED in cross-sectional studies of diabetic populations range from 20 to 71% (Table 1). Most of these studies did not control for severity of disease, duration of disease, or control of hyperglycemia.
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