With great interest we have read the recently published review by Vlachopoulos et al, a very detailed and extensive overview of erectile dysfunction in the cardiovascular patients. Guidelines for the management of erectile dysfunction with heart failure were noted, as well as advice about dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED) in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, many others have written similar reviews and guideline concerning the care for ED as well as (female) sexual dysfunction in CAD in the past years (1-4), cardiologists should be familiar with this matter by now. The problem is the actual translation of this knowledge into actions in cardiologists' daily clinical practice. Our research group performed a survey among Dutch cardiologists, aiming to evaluate their inquiry about erectile function in day-to-day practice, to detect their attitude towards this discussion and their perceived barriers for addressing sexual activity. Results from this survey indicated that cardiologists (n=414) did not routinely discuss erectile dysfunction: 48.7% indicated to discuss sexual function 'sometimes' and only 16.9% said to discuss the subject regularly. Of respondents, 41.5% marked that care for patients' sexual quality of life is not their responsibility. Nevertheless, 42% indicated that they would benefit from training to obtain knowledge about treatment of erectile and sexual dysfunction in cardiologic patients. Barriers not to inquire about sexual activity included 'the patient does not ask about it' (53.7%), 'I do not have an angle or motive to start about it'(45.9%), as well as time constraints (42.9%) and lack of training in dealing with sexual dysfunction (35.2%). The more experienced the cardiologist was the less he/she stated the need for training or for a referral directory(5). Since all cardiologists should, meanwhile, know that ED is part of their responsibility, as it is a sentinel marker of CVD(6). It is now case to pay attention to the implementation of the care for erectile and other sexual dysfunction in the cardiology practice. Our study suggests that physicians' experience in the field plays an important role in discussing sexual activity and that sexual healthcare can be improved with more education about the subject. Furthermore a directory of the available healthcare professionals for the referral of patients with sexual dysfunction was indicated as mandatory. We suggest that attention of cardiologists should not only be focused on writing about ED and CVD, attention should be diverted to the actual implementation of care for patients with ED as well, in order to improve patient-centered healthcare in cardiology.

Faced with concern about ED pills and the heart, the FDA has urged caution in patients who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, or serious disturbances of the heart's pumping rhythm in the previous six months, in men with a history of congestive heart failure or unstable angina, and in men with low blood pressure or uncontrolled high blood pressure (above 170/110 mm Hg). Because certain medications can boost the blood levels of these drugs, men taking erythromycin or certain antifungal or anti-HIV medications should use only low-dose PDE-5 inhibitors. Reduced dosage is also important for men with advanced age and for those with significant kidney or liver disease.
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

"Just because there is evidence doesn't mean it's good evidence," says Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, and one of the original clinical investigators for the ED drug Viagra (sildenafil). "And before men with ED start down the naturopathic route, it's smart to make sure that there isn't some underlying medical condition that needs to be corrected." Moreover, it is estimated that 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and 70% of cases are a result of a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. Additionally, ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems.


Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.
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).

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.
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.
When counseling diabetic men who are considering a PDE-5 inhibitor for ED, it is important to set realistic expectations and explain that studies document that all three agents are less effective in diabetic patients than in the general population of men with ED.45–49 For additional information, readers are referred to the excellent review of the use of PDE-5 inhibitors in diabetic men by Vickers and Satyanarayana.50
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.
Medications used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, especially antihypertensive medications, have been implicated frequently in the development of sexual dysfunction. A study of 5485 patients in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program found that, during a 5-year period, 8.3% of male hypertensive patients stopped taking their antihypertensive medications secondary to sexual adverse effects.35x35Curb, JD, Borhani, NO, Blaszkowski, TP, Zimbaldi, N, Fotiu, S, and Williams, W. Long-term surveillance for adverse effects of antihypertensive drugs. JAMA. 1985; 253: 3263–3268

The phrase “use it before you lose it” can be applied when it comes to helping men with ED regain normal erectile function. Pelvic exercises, more commonly known as kegel exercises, are used to promote urinary continence and sexual health. They help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, it pumps during ejaculation, and it helps empty the urethra after urination, according to Healthline.

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.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References However, if optimally treated with β-blockers, lipid-lowering agents, and aspirin, these patients have no significantly increased cardiovascular risk associated with sexual activity, although they should receive appropriate risk information.88x88Jackson, G. The use of sildenafil in heart disease [editorial]. Hosp Med. 2000; 61: 526–527
Myocardial ischaemia is caused by the reduction of coronary blood flow as a result of fixed or dynamic epicardial coronary artery stenosis, abnormal constriction or deficient relaxation of coronary microcirculation, or because of reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.56 Atherosclerosis is the major cause of myocardial ischaemia. Plaque that develops in atherosclerosis can rupture causing platelet aggregation and subsequent thrombus formation, which leads to MI. The other mechanisms of myocardial ischaemia are encountered far less than atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction has an important role in the progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction enhances the intimal proliferation and malregulation that results in plaque destabilisation in the arteries.6 This process, coupled with paradoxical vasoconstriction, can result in major cardiovascular events such as MI.32

The second way relates to the risk associated with the sexual activity in a patient with either overt or occult CVD. In this case, the diagnosis of ED should prompt an initial cardiovascular assessment based on the history and clinical examination in order to define the baseline risk according to (i) the likelihood of silent CAD18,31 (especially since ED patients have a high probability to have silent CAD) or to the stage of clinically evident CAD, (ii) other cardiovascular conditions either unrelated, or related to ED (e.g. heart failure, peripheral arterial disease).
Three FDA-approved oral medications, sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil are available. These drugs are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors that can prolong levels of cGMP in tissue allowing improved smooth muscle relaxation, thus facilitating an erection. PDE-5 inhibitor drugs are effective in 56-63% of diabetic men with ED. More stringent glycemic control can improve these results. Men with testosterone deficiency may benefit from a combination of oral ED medication and testosterone supplementation.

Low testosterone represents another link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. A man’s testosterone levels gradually diminish beginning at age 30. By the time he reaches his 70s, testosterone levels may have dropped to a tenth of youthful levels. Diminishing testosterone levels contribute to loss of muscle, increased body fat, and reduced libido. Fatigue is common, as is depression. Low testosterone levels can also result in reduced concentration, irritability, passivity, loss of interest in activities, and even hypochondria.


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 (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
The use of penile support device such as penile cast worn externally during intercourse has been tried to provide length and rigidity to the penile shaft (24). Each device can be customised to the patient’s penile size and provided an option for patients who are seeking non-pharmaceutical/non-invasive treatment, or have end-organ failure who may not be candidates for, or unable to afford, penile prosthesis implant.

In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.

When counseling diabetic men who are considering a PDE-5 inhibitor for ED, it is important to set realistic expectations and explain that studies document that all three agents are less effective in diabetic patients than in the general population of men with ED.45–49 For additional information, readers are referred to the excellent review of the use of PDE-5 inhibitors in diabetic men by Vickers and Satyanarayana.50


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.
ED is a common complication of diabetes that affects patients' quality of life. While the etiology of this complication may be multifactorial in nature, it is clear that it usually has a strong organic component. Because men with diabetes value their erectile function highly, it is important that providers encourage them to maintain good glycemic, blood pressure, and lipid control to minimize their risk of developing this complication.

Table 3Metabolic Equivalent (MET) Values for Various Physical Activities56x56Wallis, RM, Corbin, JD, Francis, SH, and Ellis, P. Tissue distribution of phosphodiesterase families and the effects of sildenafil on tissue cyclic nucleotides, platelet function, and the contractile responses of trabeculae carneae and aortic rings in vitro. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 3C–12C

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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, patients with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy and idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis are at increased risk of syncope and sudden death after exercise.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
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:
If the cause is believed to be organic but not hormonal, or if the patient defers psychological intervention, he can be offered the VCD or oral drug therapy. EDDM patients on organic nitrates or who have experienced or are concerned about potential adverse reaction to PDE-5 inhibitors are suitable candidates for the VCD. The VCD induces functional rigidity in 75% of patients with diabetes with autonomic neuropathy. Some patients or their partners may reject or discontinue the use of the VCD because it induces an unnatural erection, causes bruising and numbness of the penis, and or inhibits antegrade ejaculation.8

Obesity is a strong predictor of ED as it is associated with other risk factors, such as diabetes, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.4 Obesity increases the risk of ED by 30–90 % and acts as an independent risk factor for CVD. Obese men with ED have greater impairment in endothelial function than non-obese men with ED.5 Moreover, high BMI causes low testosterone levels, which in turn leads to ED, as observed in a prospective trial involving 7,446 participants.50

Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (35) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, if lower blood pressure level was the primary etiology of ED, all classes of antihypertensive agents should be expected to have relatively similar effects on erectile function because of their efficacy in lowering pressure, which has not been seen.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (49) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, cigar smoking and passive exposure to cigarette smoke have been shown to significantly predict onset of ED.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
Both erectile dysfunction and heart disease have been linked with impaired activity of nitric oxide, the body’s most powerful vasodilator. An endogenous (produced by the body) compound called asymmetric dimethylarginine is an L-arginine analog, which interferes with the production of nitric oxide and may increase the risk for erectile dysfunction and heart disease.
 Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED. 
The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
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