Most cases of sexual dysfunction are related to a physical cause. The most common causes are diabetes, heart disease, neurological trauma or disease, and side effects of medications. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to impotence. While most of the focus has been on men with erectile dysfunction, a number of women also suffer from this disorder.

Gene therapy has the potential to become a future management option for patients with CAD and ED. Animal studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of gene therapy. A rat model was studied by Bivalacqua et al. to evaluate the effect of the combination of eNOS gene therapy and sildenafil. This research suggested that erectile response was greater in male rats with diabetes treated with combination eNOS gene therapy and sildenafil, compared with male rats with diabetes treated with eNOS gene therapy or sildenafil alone.76–78
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Figure. Progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction occurs early in atherosclerosis and prevents blood vessels from dilating properly. When the blood vessels that supply the penis are not able to dilate during sexual stimulation because of endothelial dysfunction, the penis cannot fill with blood, and the man develops erectile dysfunction. As atherosclerosis progresses, plaques build up in blood vessels and blood flow is slowed, further worsening erectile function. A heart attack occurs when an atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, a blood clot forms over the plaque, and blood flow to the heart muscle is completely blocked. Atherosclerotic risk factors (black arrows) worsen cardiovascular health; modification of these risk factors (red arrows) improves cardiovascular health.
Basaria S,  Coviello AD,  Travison TG,  Storer TW,  Farwell WR,  Jette AM,  Eder R,  Tennstedt S,  Ulloor J,  Zhang A,  Choong K,  Lakshman KM,  Mazer NA,  Miciek R,  Krasnoff J,  Elmi A,  Knapp PE,  Brooks B,  Appleman E,  Aggarwal S,  Bhasin G,  Hede-Brierley L,  Bhatia A,  Collins L,  LeBrasseur N,  Fiore LD,  Bhasin S. Adverse events associated with testosterone administration, N Engl J Med , 2010, vol. 36 (pg. 109-122)https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1000485
Powerful clinical and scientific experience suggests a close link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Studies like the Health Professionals Follow-up Study have revealed the risk factors for erectile dysfunction to be very similar to those for heart disease. Hypertension, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and physical inactivity all strongly predict sexual dysfunction in men, as they do heart disease.1

The drugs come in several strengths. Most men should start with a low to moderate dose. The dose can be adjusted depending on the results. Men with potential problems should always start with the lowest dose. Every man should avoid consuming alcohol before taking these drugs. Men who do not respond to a full dose on two or three different occasions should try other treatments.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
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].
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.
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]
Alprostadil self-injection. With this method, you use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (Caverject Impulse, Edex) into the base or side of your penis. In some cases, medications generally used for other conditions are used for penile injections on their own or in combination. Examples include papaverine, alprostadil and phentolamine. Often these combination medications are known as bimix (if two medications are included) or trimix (if three are included).

As ED has become more prevalent among the U.S. population, entrepreneurs have set out to serve this patient population by introducing a variety of non-invasive devices to help correct the condition. There’s the penis pump, which includes a plastic tube that fits over the penis and a hand or battery-powered pump attached to the tube, and a band that circles the base of the penis when it becomes erect.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil has a 4000-fold increased selectivity for PDE-5 over PDE-3, has negligible effects on heart rate, and has only a modest effect on blood pressure level in healthy persons, with an average systolic pressure decrease of 10 mm Hg with a single dose of 100 mg.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Possible etiologies for ED secondary to hypertension include vascular damage due to hypertensive changes as well as hormonal abnormalities such as elevated prolactin levels.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
Erectile dysfunction means that a man is not able to have sex because he cannot get or keep an erection. Erectile dysfunction affects >30% of men between 40 and 70 years of age. There are several different causes of ED, including depression, low testosterone, nerve problems, and some medications, but the most common cause is a problem with the blood vessels called atherosclerosis.
Sexual dysfunction refers to a problem during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevents the individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from the sexual activity. The sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Sexual dysfunction can be caused by physical and emotional factors, or a combination of both. The side effects of some medications also can lead to sexual dysfunction.
Finding a satisfying solution to ED can be a life-changing event for many men and their partners. In one study of 200 patients and 120 partners, both men and their partners found the AMS penile implant to be satisfying. 92% of patients and 96% of their partners reported sexual activity to be excellent or satisfactory.10 Talk to your doctor about your ED treatment options.
According to Harvard Special Health Report Erectile Dysfunction, one study in the European Heart Journal looked at men newly diagnosed with heart disease, but without ED, who started treatment with the beta-blocker atenolol (Tenormin). Some of the study participants were told about the sexual side effect of the blood pressure drug, and ED was reported by almost one-third of the participants. In contrast, among those who were not told the drug's name or its side effects, only 3% said they experienced ED.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (47) | Google ScholarSee all References Because of this perceived increase in risk, many couples are concerned about resuming sexual activity in the setting of cardiac disease. A study that monitored male patients after coronary artery bypass grafting found that 17% of patients and 35% of their partners were afraid of resuming sexual activity.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
Abnormalities in the vascular, neural, endocrine, muscular, or psychiatric systems can result in ED.2,3 EDDM is due to multisystemic disease. Atrophy or apoptosis of cavernosal smooth muscle can occur due to loss of Bcl-2 expression in cavernosal smooth muscle and lead to ED. Abnormal amounts of advanced glycation end products is a common occurrence. These chemicals may have an effect on potassium channels that facilitate intracellular calcium release and subsequent cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation. Connective tissue synthesis is increased due to transforming growth factor-beta. The decrease in smooth muscle and the increase in collagen decreases the compliance of the erectile tissue. Neuropathic damage to both the somatic and autonomic nerves has been clearly defined in DM. Partial occlusion of the pelvic or intracavernosal arteries, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, and depression associated with a chronic illness (DM) can all play a primary or secondary role in the development of EDDM. On a molecular level, studies have demonstrated decreased levels of endothelial and neuronal nitric acid synthase (NS) and decreased cavernosal artery and sinusoidal response to nitric oxide. Abnormalities in nitric oxide rapidly render the functional syncytium of the corpora cavernosa unable to synchronously relax. As the patient with diabetes ages, the concentration of constrictors, including endothelin, prostanoids, and possibly angiotensin, increases as the production of the relaxants, including nitric oxide, vasointestinal peptide, and prostacyclin, decreases.

David F. Penson, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of urology and preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Hunter Wessells, MD, is an associate professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and chief of urology at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.
A disruption anywhere along the complex chain of events will impair the capacity to have an erection. Any man who has experienced the frustration of male impotence knows that the consequences extend beyond physical dissatisfaction to anxiety, tension, and embarrassment. A common reason for failure of the erectile apparatus is disruption of the path leading to nitric oxide production and blood flow control.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Possible etiologies for ED secondary to hypertension include vascular damage due to hypertensive changes as well as hormonal abnormalities such as elevated prolactin levels.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
And yes, this may all seem easier said than done, when it comes to a condition that is more often than not the subject of jokes—or the cause of embarrassment. Talking to your doctor is the first step in dealing with this complication, which can wreak havoc on your quality of life. Keeping diabetes in check and enjoying a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference in reducing ED risk, but if that isn't enough, there are successful treatments. Sex brings a range of physical and psychological benefits, whether you have diabetes or not. Preventing or reversing ED isn't just about sex—it's a step toward better health and a more satisfying life.
Higher consumption of fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and beans helps to keep blood pressure in the favorable range.10 Beans, nuts and seeds have unique cholesterol-lowering capabilities.11-13 Berries and the flavonoids they contain have a blood pressure-lowering effect, plus berries and pomegranate have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that protect against the development of heart disease.14-18
You may reduce your risk of ED by improving your heart health. Healthy lifestyle choices often encourage you to stop smoking, lose weight and increase physical activity. If ED persists, oral medications are a common first therapy for ED. If oral medications don’t work for you, the penile implant may be an option. The implant is concealed inside the body. It offers support for an erection whenever and wherever desired.
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).
Feeling fatigued, very stressed, depressed or dealing with another mood-related issue that can lower libido. Sources of stress and diminished quality of life — such as “deteriorating economic position,” unhappiness with one’s job or other aspects that lower emotional health — are believed to be major causes for sexual dysfunction in both men and women
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.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In study patients taking these medications compared with controls, significant decreases in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were found, as well as significant increases in length of maximal tumescence per nocturnal penile tumescence testing at 2 weeks. Hypoglycemia secondary to the use of insulin or hypoglycemic agents may result in ED or orgasmic dysfunction.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
“If a diabetic patient has erectile dysfunction, it’s not enough to provide Viagra [sildenafil] or Cialis [tadalafil] and then send him on his merry way,” J. Francois Eid, MD, a New York City urologist, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It’s important to let individuals know the drug has not cured the erectile dysfunction. If patients don’t take care of the diabetes, the erectile dysfunction progresses.”

In an open-label study, 8 patients monitored with a Swan-Ganz catheter were given a total of 40 mg of sildenafil in 4 intravenous transfusions (the equivalent of 1 to 3 times the plasma concentration after an oral dose of 100 mg).62x62Jackson, G, Benjamin, N, Jackson, N, and Allen, MJ. Effects of sildenafil citrate on human hemodynamics. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 13C–20C
But there are also medical devices like the Elator, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is custom-made with medical-grade silicone based on a patient’s girth and shaft. The technology, which has no known risk factors, has two thin bars that glide along the bottom of the penis, and hold the organ partially or fully erect with a soft, flexible loop, a sliding latch and a base lock and base ring.
In diabetic patients who fail medical management of ED, penile implantation surgery remains a viable therapeutic option. In a recent review of 372 men who underwent implantation of a three-piece inflatable penile implant, 86% reported that the device was still functional 5 years after implantation, and 79% reported that they used the device at least twice monthly.59

Recent revised labeling for sildenafil states that there is a lack of controlled data for its use in patients with resting hypotension (<90/50 mm Hg) or hypertension (>170/110 mm Hg); a history of myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the past 6 months; coronary artery disease or cardiac failure causing unstable angina; or retinitis pigmentosa and possible genetic disorders of retinal PDEs.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 During this period, 130 deaths were reported to the US FDA; 41 of these men died or had cardiac arrest within 4 to 5 hours after taking sildenafil, and 27 died or had cardiac arrest either during or immediately after sexual activity. The average age of these men was 64 years. Of the 77 men in this group who died of documented cardiovascular-related events, 41 died of definite or suspected myocardial infarction, 27 died after cardiac arrest, and 6 had symptoms of cardiac disease at the time of death. Sixteen of the men had taken nitroglycerin or organic nitrates in association with sildenafil; another 3 had nitroglycerin in their possession at the time of death. In 48 men, the cause of death was unknown, and another 3 died of cerebrovascular accidents. Overall, it was concluded that sildenafil was not associated with an excess of cardiovascular death.

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.


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References In some elderly men, tadalafil could be detected in the bloodstream 6 days after oral ingestion.74x74Gresser, U and Gleiter, CH. Erectile dysfunction: comparison of efficacy and side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil—review of the literature. Eur J Med Res. 2002; 7: 435–446
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (19) | Google ScholarSee all References However, there has been disagreement regarding the effects of diuretics on erectile function; many studies found that only rarely have these medications been implicated convincingly as the cause of a patient's ED.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31

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.


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References One MET is equal to a resting state, or 3.5 mL/kg per minute. The relative MET values of sexual activity compared with other forms of activity are shown in Table 3. In general, sexual activity is similar to mild or moderate activity for most patients either with or without coronary artery disease.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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277
A considerable number of patients with ED can have psychogenic factors as the only cause, or in combination with organic causes of ED. Depression, low self-esteem and social stresses are among the psychogenic factors that can lead to ED. Depression is an independent risk factor for both ED and IHD; these three disease conditions are interlinked.51 Psychogenic ED can be managed by multiple psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, couples counselling and guided sexual stimulation techniques.52
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.

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.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277
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.

In years past, before nitric oxide and its role in the erectile response was appreciated, testosterone was used to treat sexual dysfunction in men. It proved a partial success as a standalone therapy, resulting in improved erectile potency in 40–60% of men with low-to-normal testosterone levels. The likelihood of success increased, however, if starting testosterone levels were low (usually defined as below 300 ng/dL), in which case improved erections were experienced by as many as 65% of men, compared with 16.7% receiving placebo; topical testosterone preparations were also noted to be superior to oral replacement or injections.21 These findings were confirmed by another study that showed testosterone produced modest improvements in erectile function and libido in men with low-to-normal testosterone levels.22


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