Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. "It's not a great drug," says McCullough. "And I suspect the herb is not as potent as the pharmaceutical version." What's more, evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.
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.
Overall, sildenafil appears to be relatively safe and effective for treatment of ED in men with stable cardiovascular disease who are not taking NO-donor medications. In a study of 105 men with ED and known or likely coronary artery disease, patients underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle echocardiography 2 times after receiving either sildenafil or placebo.63x63Arruda-Olson, AM, Mahoney, DW, Nehra, A, Leckel, M, and Pellikka, PA. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil during exercise in men with known or probable coronary artery disease: a randomized crossover trial. JAMA. 2002; 287: 719–725
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References It has been postulated that regular exercise can decrease or possibly eliminate the small risk of myocardial infarction associated with sexual intercourse in most patients.8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
If your doctor says it's OK, you may be able to stop taking blood pressure medications temporarily to see if your sex life improves. To make sure your blood pressure remains within a safe range, you may need frequent blood pressure readings while you're not taking the blood pressure lowering medication that may be causing your sexual difficulties. This can be done with a home blood pressure monitoring device for convenience.
Adequate cavernosal arterial inflow is necessary for penile erection. Arterial morphology,28 flow,29 and diameter30 differ between diabetic and nondiabetic populations with ED. BB and STZ-induced diabetic rats exhibit impairment of endothelium-mediated vascular smooth muscle relaxation, and proposed mechanisms include changes in the expression, activity, or post-translational modification of endothelial NOS.31
A number of over-the-counter herbal supplements claim to treat ED. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you should avoid products labeled as “herbal Viagra.” These supplements can increase blood flow and cause dangerous drops in blood pressure. Risk may be particularly high for men who are using nitrates. Herbal Viagra can also interact with other prescription drugs. Herbal Viagra products may contain potentially toxic compounds that aren’t listed on the label.
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.
A penile prosthesis is another treatment option for men with erectile dysfunction. These devices are either malleable (bendable) or inflatable. The simplest type of prosthesis consists of a pair of malleable rods surgically implanted within the erection chambers of the penis. With this type of implant the penis is always semi-rigid and merely needs to be lifted or adjusted into the erect position to initiate sex. Today, many men choose a hydraulic, inflatable prosthesis, which allows a man to have an erection whenever he chooses and is much easier to conceal. It is also more natural.
What comes after an ED diagnosis in diabetic patients? Often, Dr. Eid will instantly refer these men to a cardiologist. “If a patient has diabetes and is newly diagnosed, a significant portion of these men are going to develop coronary artery disease in the next 2-3 years,” he said. “One of the things we do is recommend is that they see a cardiologist and perhaps have a stress test or some sort of evaluation.”
We need to keep in mind that angioplasty and bypass surgery have some significant adverse outcomes, including heart attacks, stroke and death. These invasive procedures only attempt to treat a small segment of the diseased heart, usually with only a temporary benefit. The patients treated with angioplasty and bypass will continue to experience progressive disability and most often die a premature death as a result of their heart disease.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile dysfunction secondary to cardiovascular disease often responds well to the standard ED treatments developed over the past few decades. Penile prosthesis implantation was developed in the 1970s, followed by intracavernosal injections of vasoactive agents, including papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1, introduced in the 1980s.11x11Nehra, A. Intracavernosal therapy: when oral agents fail. Curr Urol Rep. 2001; 2: 468–472
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.
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
If your physician advises you that the risks of taking an erectile dysfunction medication are too high, he or she can advise you of other treatment options that can enable you to resume sexual activity without risks of complications. These might also include screening to try to determine if your erectile dysfunction has a physiological basis in need of medical intervention, can be corrected through lifestyle changes or if it may have psychological roots. After all, a heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease can lead to depression, which can also affect libido. Talk with your doctor to establish a safe, effective plan for resuming intimacy after your heart disease diagnosis.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is strongly associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), the persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, but this condition can be successfully treated in the majority of diabetes patients. ED is present in 32% of type 1 and 46% of type 2 DM patients. Several population- based studies of ED prevalence calculated the odds ratios for the association between ED and various chronic diseases. An odds ratio must be sufficiently greater than 1.0 to identify an increased risk. Diabetes has an odds ratio, ED risk multiplier of 4.1, compared with 1.7 for hyperlipidemia and 1.6 for hypertension. Erectile dysfunction in diabetes mellitus (EDDM) patients has been considered to have an organic etiology. Healthcare providers have long realized that ED can be the first symptom of DM.
There are currently two models of the inflatable penile prosthesis (IPP), namely, the two-piece IPP vs. the three-piece IPP. The three-piece IPP consists of a pair of corporal cylinders, a scrotal pump and an abdominal reservoir filled with saline. Owing to the presence of the reservoir, the corporal cylinders can be completely deflated to give the patient the physiological flaccid state when not in use, and likewise a maximally turgid state when inflated (21). The two-piece IPP lacks an abdominal reservoir and is often offered in patients with whom placement of reservoir is challenging or not possible such as following radical cysto-prostatectomy with orthotopic ileal neobladder creation, or patients who had previous open book fracture of the pelvis with metal implants. The concept of ectopic reservoir placement has allowed many of these men the option for three-piece IPP placement (22). Technological advances have improved mechanical reliability, reduced prosthesis infection risk and offered excellent patient and partner satisfaction rate (23).
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse.  To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.
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
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.
Heart disease and erectile dysfunction can be related. In fact, ED and heart disease are considered two signs of the same disease process. The smaller arteries in the penis are affected by atherosclerosis sooner, perhaps three or more years before they cause heart disease symptoms.11 A large international study found that men with ED were more likely to die from heart causes; have a heart attack, stroke or be admitted to the hospital with heart failure than men with no or mild ED.12

Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood gets deposited in arteries, the blood vessels that feed the heart and brain. These deposits can join with other substances to form plaque, a thick, hard deposit in the blood vessel that leads to atherosclerosis. Plaque can narrow the passageway inside the artery and pinch off the flow of blood to the heart muscle, and to the penis.

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.


Low intracavernosal nitric oxide synthase levels are found in people with diabetes, smokers, and men with testosterone deficiency. Interference with oxygen delivery or nitric oxide synthesis can prevent intracavernosal blood pressure from rising to a level sufficient to impede emissary vein outflow, leading to an inability to acquire or sustain rigid erection. Examples include decreased blood flow and inadequate intracavernosal oxygen levels when atherosclerosis involves the hypogastric artery or other feeder vessels and conditions, such as diabetes, that are associated with suboptimal nitric oxide synthase activity.
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.
But closer questioning often revealed a very different story—men would admit that struggles to achieve an erection usually preceded a heart attack or other cardiac event by one, two, or three years. Back then, the pattern of erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease was so widespread, that most in the medical profession attributed it to simple “aging,” as common as wrinkles and constipation.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References More recently, researchers have recognized that climbing stairs does not correlate closely with sexual activity in terms of autonomic, psychological, and emotional patterns of stress on the body.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
A sexually competent male must have a series of events occur and multiple mechanisms intact for normal erectile function. He must 1) have desire for his sexual partner (libido), 2) be able to divert blood from the iliac artery into the corpora cavernosae to achieve penile tumescence and rigidity (erection) adequate for penetration, 3) discharge sperm and prostatic/seminal fluid through his urethra (ejaculation), and 4) experience a sense of pleasure (orgasm). A man is considered to have ED if he cannot achieve or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity for sexual intercourse. Most men, at one time or another during their life, experience periodic or isolated sexual failures. However, the term “impotent” is reserved for those men who experience erectile failure during attempted intercourse more than 75% of the time.
Whereas management of sexual dysfunction in previously untreated hypertensive patients can be a challenging procedure, confronting the same clinical condition in individuals under antihypertensive regime can be even more demanding. In such cases there will always be a question hovering over physicians head. Is hypertension per se, antihypertensive medication or both, the causative factors provoking sexual dysfunction[15]?
* Low-risk patients include those with complete revascularization (eg, via coronary artery bypass grafting, stenting, or angioplasty), patients with asymptomatic controlled hypertension, those with mild valvular disease, and patients with left ventricular dysfunction/heart failure (NYHA classes I and II) who achieved 5 metabolic equivalents of the task METS without ischemia on recent exercise testing.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References However, subsequent studies of older patients who had sexual intercourse in their home and were monitored with ambulatory ECG reported significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The Princeton Consensus Panel provided guidelines (Table 4) for physicians regarding patients who are being evaluated for their level of risk in resuming sexual activity.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
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)

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.


Jelqing is penile massage technique of ancient Arabic origin (52). Men who practise jelqing will stretch their penises while in a semi-erected state and repeatedly milk their penises from base to glans, with their thumb and index finger touching to form an “OK” hand sign around their penile shaft. This massage can be done daily with the aim to achieve greater penile length and harder erections. Unwanted side effects of bruising, pain and fibrosis had been reported. No studies have been done to evaluate the efficacy of jelqing objectively.
Mechanical therapy is also effective and is especially well-accepted in men with stable partners. Vacuum-assisted erection devices are effective in creating erections in as much as 67% of cases. Vacuum pressure encourages increased arterial inflow, and occlusive tension rings discourage venous outflow from the penile corpus cavernosae. The penis placed inside the cylinder, a pump is used to produce a vacuum that pulls the blood into the penis. After the tension ring is slipped onto the base of the penis, the cylinder is removed. Erection lasts until the rings are removed. The one-time expense of this therapy is $120–300.
Experimental hyperglycemia may also affect cavernosal smooth muscle cell contractile responses. In experimental diabetes, penile smooth muscle has augmented force responses to vaconstrictors, possibly mediated by changes in expression of protein kinase C and the RhoA-Rho kinase Ca2+-sensitization pathway.32 These changes may promote flaccidity and alter the relaxation responses to nitric oxide. End-stage penile dysfunction may occur as a result of diabetes, with progressive loss of normal cavernosal endothelium and smooth muscle cells from the corpus cavernosum.33 Replacement by fibrotic tissue may lead to complete erectile failure.34
After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes, heart failure and stroke, those taking PDE5 inhibitors were found to be markedly less likely to die than those taking alprostadil or no erectile dysfunction drugs. Filling more prescriptions for PDE5 inhibitors appeared to be associated with a greater benefit, although Andersson said that trend should be interpreted with caution because the study was not large enough for a definitive dose-response analysis.
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
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