Erectile dysfunction (ED) is highly prevalent affecting at least 50 % of men with diabetes mellitus (DM). DM may cause ED through a number of pathophysiological pathways. These include neuropathy, endothelial dysfunction, cavernosal smooth muscle structural/functional changes, and hormonal changes. Lifestyle changes, diabetes control, and treatment of hypogonadism are important as the first step in ED management since there is no curative treatment for ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) are the first-line treatment option. Intracavernous administration of vasoactive drugs is commonly used as a second-line medical treatment when PDE5i have failed. Alprostadil is the most widely used drug in this second-line setting. The combination of papaverine, phentolamine, and alprostadil represents the most efficacious intracavernous pharmacologic treatment option that may save non-responders to alprostadil. Penile prosthesis implantation can be considered in treatment refractory cases, with excellent functional and safety results in the properly informed patients.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (328) | Google ScholarSee all References Their mean resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels decreased by 6% and 11%, respectively, compared with baseline. These patients also experienced a mild decrease in mean resting right atrial pressure, pulmonary artery pressure, pulmonary artery occlusion pressure, and cardiac output. However, the hemodynamic response to exercise was preserved. Phase 2 and 3 trials showed no difference in the rate of adverse events between sildenafil and placebo in patients being treated with antihypertensive medications. The effects of sildenafil on blood pressure level were similar in patients who were taking antihypertensive medications compared with those who were not. In healthy volunteers, no consistent or significant doserelated electrocardiographic (ECG) changes were noted at 1 and 2 hours after doses of sildenafil ranging from 1.25 to 200 mg.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C

Before a man concludes that oral drugs don’t work for him, he should have his testosterone levels checked to rule out hormone deficiency as the cause of (or as a contributor to) his sexual dysfunction. Other symptoms of low testosterone include a low sex drive and infertility. Checking testosterone levels requires a blood test. If a man’s levels of testosterone are decreased or at the lower end of normal, his doctor may prescribe supplemental testosterone therapy, either as testosterone injections or testosterone gel, which is applied daily to the skin. In some cases, testosterone therapy alone can resolve sexual dysfunction, or it can be combined with the use of oral erectile dysfunction drugs.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References, 73x73Rajagopalan, P, Mazzu, A, Xia, C, Dawkins, R, and Sundaresan, P. Effect of high-fat breakfast and moderate-fat evening meal on the pharmacokinetics of vardenafil, an oral phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. J Clin Pharmacol. 2003; 43: 260–267

There are other treatment options for erectile dysfunction (ED). Alprostadil is a medication that improves blood flow to the penis and improves erections. It can be given either by injection (Caverject and other brands) at the base of the penis or by putting an alprostadil gel (brand name MUSE) directly into the urethra, using a thin tube and a little lubricant so it slides in easily. The medicine is absorbed from the lining of the urethra into the surrounding tissues. The shot is less appealing to most people, of course, but more effective.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Postulated mechanisms of effect on sexual function with these centrally acting medications have included increased prolactin levels and a direct effect on α2-adrenergic receptors in the central nervous system.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31
ED is a common complication of diabetes and people with diabetes are also prone to developing cardiovascular complications.48 The risk of ED is relatively high in patients with known CVD. This was supported by a study of men with known CVD, in which ED was substantially predictive of all-cause mortality and the composite of CVD death, admission for heart failure, MI and stroke.17 Macroangiopathy, microangiopathy and endothelial dysfunction are among the mechanisms by which diabetes causes ED.
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

Erectile dysfunction is common in the CVD patient. It is an important component of the quality of life and it also confers an independent risk for future CV events. The usual 3-year time frame between the onset of ED symptoms and a CV event offers an opportunity for risk mitigation. Thus, sexual function should be incorporated into CVD risk assessment for all men. Algorithms for the management of patient with ED have been proposed according to the risk for sexual activity and future CV events. 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. Testosterone assessment may be useful for both diagnosis of ED, risk stratification and further management. There are issues to be addressed, such as whether PDE5 inhibition reduces CV risk. Management of ED requires a collaborative approach and the role of the cardiologist is pivotal.


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.
Because ED has several causes, sorting out exactly what is causing your problem may take some time. First, make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are using, including over-the-counter or herbal products. Drugs frequently used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and peptic ulcers can all cause ED. But don’t stop taking any of your medications without first talking to your doctor.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References Between 1987 and 1989, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS), a community-based random sample observational study of 1709 men, used self-administered sexual activity questionnaires to gather information about noninstitutionalized men aged 40 to 70 years in cities near Boston.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
This disparity is due not only to the setting in which the patients were accrued, but also to the manner in which they were questioned, because data in the Italian study were collected by the medical staff during subjects' visits for medical care, which might have also affected reporting rates. De Berardis et al.6 used a fairly generalizable cohort of 1,460 Italian men with type 2 diabetes accrued from 114 outpatient clinics and patient lists of 112 general practitioners. However, unlike the other Italian study, they used self-administered, validated questionnaires to assess the prevalence of ED among diabetic men. They found that 34% reported frequent erectile problems, and 24% reported moderate problems, for an overall prevalence of 58%. Depending on how one wishes to define “clinically significant” ED, this is probably a fairly accurate assessment.
Erectile dysfunction supplements and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and avanafil (Stendra), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well-studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.
The initial step in evaluating ED is a thorough sexual history and physical exam. The history can help in distinguishing between the primary and psychogenic causes. It is important to explore the onset, progression, and duration of the problem. If a man gives a history of “no sexual problems until one night,” the problem is most likely related to performance anxiety, disaffection, or an emotional problem. Aside from these causes, only radical prostatectomy or other overt genital tract trauma causes a sudden loss of male sexual function.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil is taken orally 1 hour before anticipated sexual intercourse and enhances the normal response to sexual stimulation; however, it has no effect on erections in the absence of stimulation.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In the general population, the estimated relative risk of experiencing a myocardial infarction within 2 hours after sexual intercourse is approximately 2.5 times higher than the baseline infarction risk of that individual, which itself is extremely low8x8Muller, 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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Early work in this field, performed by Masters and Johnson in 1966, involved evaluation of young patients in a laboratory setting and found that heart rates and systolic blood pressure levels during sexual activity approached levels seen during maximal exercise.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
Furthermore, if feelings of sadness, bloating, or weight gain are prominent, it may be beneficial to measure a form of estrogen called estradiol. This form of estrogen can be elevated in men, particularly in those who are overweight, and may trigger these abnormal responses, increasing the risk of heart disease. Estradiol levels above 30 pg/mL are generally considered abnormal. Weight loss can help correct elevated estradiol, as can prescription “aromatase inhibitors,” such as Arimidex®. In addition, a nutritional supplement called chrysin has been shown in the laboratory to inhibit the aromatase enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone to estradiol.24 You should consult your doctor to determine if this supplement may be helpful for you.
Penile arterial supply (top) and venous drainage (middle), longitudinal views. Bottom, Transverse and longitudinal views of venous return. From Lue TF. Physiology of penile erection and pathophysiology of erectile dysfunction and priapism. In: Walsh PC, Retik AB, Vaughan ED Jr, Wein AJ, eds. Campbell's Urology. Vol 2. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1998:1157-1179. With permission from Elsevier.
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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
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.
When your blood pressure is high for an extended time, it can damage the lining of your arteries and interfere with your blood flow. This appears to affect your ability to get and maintain an erection. A 2012 study published in the journal Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension found that approximately 30 percent of men with hypertension complain of ED.
A similar situation develops in the fragile penile circulation. Any disturbance in nitric oxide production lowers the capacity to dilate penile arteries, impairing penile engorgement for erection. Release of nitric oxide is readily sabotaged by many conditions, including elevated levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, smoking, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and excessive consumption of dietary saturated fat.9 If an artery’s inner wall can’t produce nitric oxide, an abnormal constriction of the arteries to the penis follows, effectively choking off blood flow.
Talk with your doctor about your sexual health. Do not be shy or embarrassed. Your doctor has probably dealt with this issue before. If your doctor is an older man, he might even have ED. First, your doctor will figure out what is causing your ED, which can usually be done just by talking with you. Next, your doctor will look for risk factors for atherosclerosis (the Table) by asking you questions, checking your blood pressure, and performing a few blood tests. Identifying and successfully treating atherosclerotic risk factors can reduce the chance of developing major vascular events (heart attacks and strokes).
Ginkgo Biloba is promoted to treat conditions ranging from hypertension to Alzheimer’s dementia. There is evidence that shows improvement of memory enhancements in the geriatric population (47), improvement in terms of cognitive function via effect on cerebral vasculature (48), improvement of claudication distance and cutaneous ulcers in patients with peripheral vascular disease (49). Ginkgo Biloba extract is proposed to induce NO in endothelial cells and thus causing relaxation of vascular smooth muscles. Animal studies have reported relaxation of rabbit corpus cavernosal smooth muscle cells with the use of Ginkgo Biloba (50). Adverse effects include headaches, major bleeding (in patient who are taking warfarin concurrently) and seizures with reported fatality (36).

Diabetes care providers, while becoming more aware of the high prevalence of ED in men with diabetes, may not appreciate the importance of maintaining erectile function to their patients. A recent study by Rance et al.40 underscores the fact that diabetic men, regardless of whether they actually have ED, believe that ED has a major impact on quality of life and that it is as important to treat as many other conditions associated with diabetes. In an effort to determine the relative importance of treatment for ED compared to other diabetic complications, they gave 192 consecutive diabetic men and 51 control patients seen at two hospitals a standardized questionnaire that assessed the relative importance of a number of diabetic complications and the patients' willingness to pay per month to avoid a particular complication.


Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought "enhanced penile tip rigidity." Experts aren't sure how ginseng might work, though it's thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. "I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED]," says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
The medications used to treat high blood pressure do not take into account the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, as their intention is to lower the blood pressure to a more manageable state, reducing the stress put on blood vessels. High blood pressure and ED are seen as separate entities, with the former taking priority for pharmaceutical treatment. This means that the medications used might do nothing to cure erectile dysfunction and may, in fact, prolong it. Medications that lower blood pressure might actually cause a low blood pressure state in the groin area and the arteries supplying the penis, making it near impossible to achieve an erection. The following are examples of such medications:
Experts feel that treating erectile dysfunction on your own, without consulting a doctor, is unsafe. "If you have ED, the first thing you need is a diagnosis," says impotence expert Steven Lamm, MD, a New York City internist and the author of The Hardness Factor (Harper Collins) and other books on male sexual health. He says men with severe erectile dysfunction probably need one of the prescription ED drugs, which include Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) as well as Viagra. But, he says, mild ED -- including the feeling that "you're not as hard as you could be" -- often responds to natural remedies.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Different classes of β-blockers have been postulated to have differential effects on erectile function, with the nonselective β-blockers (eg, propranolol) having more deleterious effects than the more cardioselective medications (eg, atenolol, metoprolol).42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.
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