If you’re taking medication to treat blood pressure, depression, pain, allergies, inflammation, seizures, or heart conditions, you’re one of the tens of millions of people at risk for medically induced erectile dysfunction. It’s just the nature of drug side effects. Yet erectile dysfunction is one of the least talked about side effects of prescription medication.
More than 11 million people in the United States have cardiovascular disease, and each year, about 500,000 survive a myocardial infarction. These patients often seek counseling on their relative risk of resuming sexual activity. In the past, it was often assumed that if a patient could climb 2 flights of stairs without symptoms, it was safe for the patient to engage in sexual activity.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
Erection is a neurovascular event that involves spinal and supra spinal pathways. The final common pathway involves the release of nitric oxide (NO) from both endothelial cells and neurons, which acts as a vasodilator causing penile engorgement and erection. NO is degraded by the enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE) type 5 in the penis. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, results when the neurovascular pathway is interrupted by medical conditions or drugs. A 15-item self-administered questionnaire, the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), is one of the most useful tools to evaluate erectile function (EF) in clinical trials, although of much less use in routine clinical practice. The MMAS (Massachusetts Male Aging Study) was the first major epidemiological investigation to study the prevalence of ED. The study found that ED was three times more common in patients with diabetes mellitus. The aetiopathogenesis of ED in diabetes is multifactorial, with vascular and neural factors being equally implicated. Hyperglycaemia is believed to give rise to biochemical perturbations that lead to these microvascular changes. In the MMAS, ED in diabetes was strongly correlated with glycaemic control, duration of disease and diabetic complications. The incidence increased with increasing age, duration of diabetes and deteriorating metabolic control, and was higher in individuals with type 2 diabetes than those with type 1.ED in men with diabetes often affects their quality of life and, as patients are often reluctant to come forward with their symptoms, a carefully taken history is one of the most useful approaches in identifying affected individuals. The PDE inhibitors have revolutionised the management of ED and oral drug therapy is currently first-line therapy for the condition. These agents act by potentiating the action of intracavernosal NO, thereby leading to a more sustained erection. Sildenafil was the first PDE5 inhibitor to undergo evaluation and has been studied extensively. More recently two other agents, vardenafil and tadalafil, have been introduced. All the drugs have been shown to be effective across a wide range of aetiologies of ED, including diabetes. The drugs have been shown to improve EF domain scores, penetration and maintenance of erection, resulting in more successful intercourse. Their effects are greater at higher doses. Sildenafil and vardenafil are shorter-acting agents, while tadalafil has a longer half-life allowing the user more flexibility in sexual activity. Common adverse effects include headache, nasal congestion and dyspepsia, all actions related to inhibition of PDE5. The drugs are generally well tolerated and withdrawal from the clinical studies as a result of drug-related adverse effects were rare. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the presence of oral nitrates is absolutely contraindicated. The clinical studies to date have not evaluated the use of one drug in the case of treatment failure with another agent. Sublingual apomorphine, which stimulates central neurogenic pathways, is a new agent and may be a suitable alternative in those patients in whom PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective or contraindicated. In clinical trials, all IIEF domains except sexual desire were found to have improved after apomorphine. The median times to erection in these studies were 18.9 and 18.8 minutes for the 2 and 3mg doses, respectively. Intraurethral and intracavernosal alprostadil may be a useful alternative when oral drug therapy is ineffective or contraindicated. The management of ED in the diabetic patient may often involve a multidisciplinary approach where psychosexual counselling and specialist urologist advice is required in addition to the skills and expertise of the diabetologist. Finally, the introduction of the new oral agents have completely revolutionised the management of ED and allowed more individuals to come forward for treatment.
Admitting to your doctor that you are having trouble achieving an erection can be difficult, but take comfort in the fact that they are not judging you and are there to improve your health and well-being. If you are just beginning a blood pressure treatment regimen and are beginning to experience erectile dysfunction, tell your doctor as soon as you can—they can solve the problem by simply changing the prescription.
Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (16) | Google ScholarSee all References These medications cause intracavernosal pressure changes in animal models, and human studies have noted deleterious effects on erectile function, decreased libido, and ejaculatory problems.42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (528) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil also has good efficacy in patients with ischemic heart disease, as shown by a retrospective subanalysis of data from 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies involving 3672 patients with ED and ischemic heart disease who were not taking nitrates.59x59Kloner, RA. Cardiovascular risk and sildenafil. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 57F–61F
The authors observe that multiple factors may be involved. In addition to decreased exercise capacity, patients with chronic heart failure have blood vessel and circulation abnormalities that can reduce blood flow into the penis and interfere with the ability to maintain an erection. And erectile dysfunction can be caused or worsened by many of the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat chronic heart failure.

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
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Based on this testing, EDDM patients were treated with behavioral therapy, intracavernosal (papaverine, PGE-1, or Trimix) or intraurethral PGE-1, a vacuum constriction device (VCD), or implantation of a penile prosthesis. Novel surgical procedures, ligation of incompetent cavernosal veins or penile revascularization, were seldom efficacious with EDDM and were soon abandoned. Although these nonsurgical therapies were efficacious, they were not widely requested because of their invasive or mechanical nature.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References All these men had ED and twice underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle exercise echocardiography 1 hour after taking either sildenafil (50 mg or 100 mg) or placebo. This study found no significant changes in resting heart rate, diastolic blood pressure level, or wall motion score index, and the exercise capacity of the 2 groups was similar. Both groups had similar numbers of patients who experienced dyspnea and/or chest pain, had a positive exercise echocardiographic test, and had exercise-induced wall motion abnormalities. Sildenafil caused a mean decrease of 7 mm Hg in the resting systolic blood pressure level compared with the placebo group. In conclusion, this study showed that in patients with stable coronary artery disease, sildenafil caused no change in symptoms, exercise endurance, or presence/extent of exercise-induced ischemia as measured by exercise echocardiography.
The treatment of ED using TCM ties in with the treatment of late-onset hypogonadism (LOH). LOH occurs due to the breakdown in coordination between the heart and the kidneys, deficiencies of the spleen and kidney (yang), deficiencies of the liver and kidney (yin) and deficiencies of the kidney (yin and yang). The endocrine function of the pituitary and gonads becomes disordered with age due to a depression of overall function. This results in accumulation of free radicals and other toxins that cannot be relieved solely with male hormone supplementation. Warm yang can energize kidneys to benefit the body, remove toxins, invigorate qi and promote blood circulation. Free radicals are removed, blood fat regulated, cardio-cerebral blood flow improved and again the key here is to improve the function of the digestive, respiratory and endocrine systems, hence regulating the body in every aspect holistically (28).

Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23

Yohimbine: The main component of an African tree bark, yohimbine is probably one of the most problematic of all natural remedies for ED. Some research suggests that yohimbine can improve a type of sexual dysfunction that is linked with a drug used to treat depression. However, studies have linked yohimbine to a number of side effects, which can include anxiety, increased blood pressure, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. Like all natural remedies, yohimbine should only be used after advice and under supervision from a doctor.


Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33

With early detection, doctors can suggest preventive measures like statins, blood pressure meds, revamping eating habits and getting more exercise. Try these two exercises that can cut your risk of heart disease in half. The study researchers told Science Daily, “Our study supports a more aggressive CVD risk assessment and management for persons with erectile dysfunction, including young men who may otherwise be categorized as low-risk due to their young ages.” Check out the sexual health conditions affecting millennial men.


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.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Increased cGMP levels cause intracellular calcium levels to decrease, resulting in relaxation of the corporeal smooth muscle, active dilatation of the penile arteries, arterioles, and sinusoids, and finally, increased arterial inflow and passive compression of penile venous outflow.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Cardiovascular disease remains our nation’s biggest killer, responsible for about one-third of deaths in the U.S.1 Erectile dysfunction (ED) is typically the first clinical manifestation of cardiovascular disease, making it a helpful early marker for men who are likely to die of heart attacks. There is a strong relationship between erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, heart attack and a premature death.2, 3

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


The body’s source for nitric oxide production is the amino acid L-arginine, which is naturally found in many foods. The average American ingests about 3,000–5,000 mg of L-arginine per day, as it is an amino acid naturally contained in many foods. Meats of all varieties, nuts, and dairy products are rich in L-arginine, so the body is accustomed to intake levels of several thousand milligrams every day.
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.
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.
Characteristics that imply a higher risk is severe ED (SHIM 1–7) and ED duration >3 years.15,30 Vascular and circulating biomarkers may help to characterize further the patient with ED.23 Of the wide array of biomarkers that have been proposed for the assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults,34,35 some have been studied specifically in the context of ED.23Table 4 offers a critical evaluation of these biomarkers. Such tests should be considered as potentially helpful and thus recommended where available, but not mandatory.30 Despite its potent predictive ability recently shown,36 exposure to radiation with coronary artery calcium scoring should be carefully weighed. Although not specific for ED, it might be reasonable to evaluate biomarkers that have been proposed for the intermediate-risk patient such as uric acid, glycated haemoglobin, microalbuminuria, and lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2.30

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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References When used in combination with NO-donor medications such as nitroglycerin, the modest blood pressure effects of sildenafil are potentiated, resulting in a significant decrease in systolic (21-55 mm Hg) and diastolic (up to 26 mm Hg) blood pressure levels, as well as vasodilatory symptoms such as headache, light-headedness, and nausea.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References When used in combination with NO-donor medications such as nitroglycerin, the modest blood pressure effects of sildenafil are potentiated, resulting in a significant decrease in systolic (21-55 mm Hg) and diastolic (up to 26 mm Hg) blood pressure levels, as well as vasodilatory symptoms such as headache, light-headedness, and nausea.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 (207) | Google ScholarSee all References Adverse-effect profiles of headaches, flushing, rhinitis, and dyspepsia, without visual changes, mimic those of vardenafil.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

It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.


The use of shock wave therapy has revolutionized the treatment of many aspects of medicine. High intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy has been used for the treatment of nephro-urolithiasis while medium intensity shockwave therapy is used by orthopaedic surgeons to treat joint pain as well as tendinitis. Low intensity shockwaves therapy was first noted to improve ischaemia-induced myocardial dysfunction in animal studies when low intensity shockwaves were applied to porcine myocardium (13). Shockwaves induces a localized stress on cell membranes in the same way that shear stress affects endothelial cell membranes (14) and this triggers the release of angiogenic factors, such as increased NO production through increased activity of endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) and neuronal NO synthase (nNOS), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) (15). These shockwaves also cause membrane hyperpolarization (16), activation of the Ras signaling pathway, non-enzymatic synthesis of NO and induction of stress fibers and intercellular gaps (17).
Penile Injection Medication: This is just what it sounds like. Injected at home directly into the penis, the medication alprostadil produces erection by relaxing certain muscles, increasing blood flow into the penis and restricting outflow. Although some sources report an 80 percent success rate, the therapy has disadvantages, such as risks of infection, pain, and scarring—fibrosis—in the penis, and it may also cause priapism. A popular version of this medication is Upjohn Corporation’s Caverject. The MUSE System, by VIVUS, involves the same medicine (a pellet of alprostadil) applied with an eye-dropper-like applicator, directly into the urethra.
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