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
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.

Your choice of blood pressure medications could make a difference in the bedroom (or wherever you like to have sex). Thiazides (diuretics or “water pills”) and beta blockers are the most likely to cause erectile dysfunction (ED), while alpha blockers the least likely. Alpha blockers work by reducing nerve impulses to blood vessels, allowing blood to pass more easily. Ask your doctor whether these or other blood pressure medications are best for you.
Inflatable prostheses are complex mechanical devices that imitate the natural process of erection. Parts are inserted surgically into the penis and scrotum, and activated by squeezing. When erection is no longer desired, a valve on the pump is pressed, and the penis becomes flaccid. Self-contained single-unit prostheses are similar to the inflatable types, but more compact. The entire device is implanted into the penis. When erection is desired, the unit is activated by either squeezing or bending, depending on which of the two types of self-contained prostheses is used.
In another study from ExCEED, Penson et al.38 compared erectile function and disease-specific quality of life of men with ED and diabetes to those of men with ED without diabetes. They found that those with diabetes reported significantly worse erectile function (P = 0.004) and intercourse satisfaction (P = 0.04) than those without diabetes. Importantly, the diabetic patients also reported that ED had a significantly worse psychological impact on their overall emotional life than did their nondiabetic counterparts (P = 0.01). Interestingly, no differences were noted between the two groups in the psychological impact of ED on the sexual experience.
Normal penile erection is controlled by two mechanisms: reflex erection and psychogenic erection. Reflex erection occurs by directly touching the shaft of the penis, while psychogenic erection occurs by erotic or emotional stimuli. ED is a condition where erection does not take place by either mechanism. ED can occur because of hormonal imbalance, neural disorders or lack of adequate blood supply to the penis.54 Lack of blood supply can be a result of impaired endothelial function associated with CAD.54
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (105) | Google ScholarSee all References Aspirin and β-blocker use have been suggested to decrease the risk of cardiovascular events with sexual activity, although their benefit has not been proved definitively.79x79Kimmel, SE. Sex and myocardial infarction: an epidemiologic perspective. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 10F–13F
No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.
It’s crucial that any underlying medical condition, such as angina or diabetes, is detected. So if you’re experiencing problems with ED, book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will assess and examine you to try to establish the cause of the problem, and may refer you for tests. Don’t take any medicine for ED without first discussing it with your doctor.
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.

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
The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72
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.
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 causes of ED are numerous but generally fall into two categories: organic or psychogenic. The organic causes can be subdivied into five categories: vascular, traumatic/postsurgical, neurological, endocrine-induced, and drug-induced. Examples of the psychogenic causes are depression, performance anxiety, and relationship problems. In people with diabetes, the main risk factors are neuropathy, vascular insufficiency, poor glycemic control, hypertension, low testosterone levels, and possibly a history of smoking.
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References By 1996, fueled by the availability of the new oral agent sildenafil, the number of outpatient visits for ED as estimated by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey had increased to 1.3 million per year.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
SOURCES: American Urological Association, "AUA Guideline on the Management of Erectile Dysfunction: Diagnosis and Treatment Recommendations." Barksdale, J. Pharmacotherapy, May 1999; vol 19: pp 573-581. Ferrario, C. Journal of Clinical Hypertension, November/December 2002; vol 4: pp 424-432. Fogari, R. American Journal of Hypertension, January 2001; vol. 14: pp 27-31. Grimm, R. Hypertension, January 1997; vol 29: pp 8-14. Llisteri, J. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, May 2001; vol. 321: pp 336-341. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension: Treatment With ACE Inhibitors."
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.

Neurological (nerve and brain) diseases: The nervous system plays a vital part in achieving and maintaining an erection. It is common for men with conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries to experience ED. This is due to an interruption in the transmission of nerve impulses between the brain and the penis.
Not surprisingly, they found that diabetic patients rated kidney disease and blindness as the two most important complications of their condition. Diabetic men with ED ranked ED as the third most important complication of diabetes, followed on average in order by foot ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraine headaches, sleeping disorders, and mild indigestion. Diabetic men without ED found ED slightly less important, ranking it behind foot ulcers and high blood pressure, although all three were grouped fairly close together (mean ranks were 4.59, 4.23, and 4.52, respectively). Interestingly, in men both with and without ED, subjects were willing to pay more per month to avoid ED than all other conditions except blindness and kidney disease (mean values for diabetic patients with ED were £50.5, £88.0, and £66.1, respectively). In summary, erectile function is important to diabetic men, and when ED is present, it has a significant negative effect on quality of life.
The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72
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.

Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References The Framingham Heart Study found a baseline risk of myocardial infarction in a healthy 50-year-old nonsmoking man to be approximately 1% per year, or 1 chance per million per hour.87x87Anderson, KM, Odell, PM, Wilson, PW, and Kannel, WB. Cardiovascular disease risk profiles. Am Heart J. 1991; 121: 293–298
Vascular disease: Vascular diseases are those that affect the blood vessels. These diseases include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol. These diseases, which account for 70% of physical-related causes of ED, restrict blood flow to the heart, the brain, and--in the case of ED--to the penis. Atherosclerosis alone accounts for 50%-60% of ED cases in men over age 60.
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
Relaxation of erectile tissue requires nitric oxide from nonadrenergic-noncholinergic neurons and the endothelium.21 Penile tissue from diabetic men with ED demonstrates impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of smooth muscle,22 increased accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs),23 and upregulation arginase, a competitor with nitric oxide synthase for its substrate L-arginine.24 Normal responses to direct smooth muscle relaxants in most of these studies implies that the impairments are due to decreased synthesis, release, or activity of nitric oxide. The fundamental mechanisms mediating these changes are thought to be the same as for other diabetic complications: increased polyol pathway flux, intracellular accumulation of AGEs, activation of protein kinase C, and increased flux through the hexosamine pathway.25
In the early years of my cardiology practice, I was surprised by the number of men with heart disease who also suffered from impotence. In fact, being incapable of having an erection was the norm rather than the exception after heart attack. In those days, impotence was widely attributed to the psychological depression that often followed heart attack.

The diagnosis of ED in a patient may affect its management in two ways.30 The first relates to the fact that the ED patient, irrespective of whether he has or has not established CVD, is ‘reclassified’ into a higher risk category for future CV events. Management in this case is altered in the sense that more aggressive treatment of risk factors, as well as a close follow-up, is warranted. Implementation of biomarkers in this setting is desirable.

It is recommended that testosterone be measured in patients with ED because low levels are a reliable measure of hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is not only a treatable cause of ED, but can also lead to reduced or lack of response to PDE5 inhibitors.73 Testosterone deficiency is also associated with increased cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.74 Levels >350 ng/dl do not usually require replacement, but in patients with testosterone <230 ng/dl, replacement can usually be beneficial.57 In patients with congestive heart failure, testosterone replacement can lead to fluid retention, so caution is advised. In these patients, the aim should be to keep testosterone levels in the middle range, i.e. 350–600 ng/dl.57
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.
The vacuum constriction device consists of a vacuum cylinder, various sizes of tension rings, and a vacuum pump, either hand-operated or electric. The penis is placed in a cylinder to which a tension ring is attached. Air is evacuated from the cylinder by means of the pump, creating a vacuum, which produces the erection. The cylinder is removed, leaving the tension ring at the base of the penis to maintain the erection.
×