Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, affecting almost 40% of men over 40 years of age (with varying degrees of severity) and increases in frequency with age.1 Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease (CVD) share common risk factors including age, hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, insulin resistance and diabetes, smoking, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sedentary lifestyle, and depression.2 Cardiovascular disease and ED also share a common pathophysiological basis of aetiology and progression.3 Numerous studies have established that ED (i) is frequent in men with established CVD, (ii) co-exists with occult coronary artery disease (CAD) and (iii) is an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular (CV) events both in men with established CVD and in men with no known CVD.2,4,5 In the latter group, ED precedes CAD, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease by a significant period that usually ranges from 2 to 5 years (average 3 years).2 Although the ED patient can be managed by various medical specialties, and preferably a collaborative approach is most effective, this review is oriented to the cardiologist. While this review deals exclusively with sexual health of men, female sexual health and its potential relation with CVD is also an interesting, yet underexplored, field. As in men, moderating common risk factors seems to improve female sexual health and may serve as an opportunity to decrease CVD risk, with the identification of sexual dysfunction being the starting point.6
Having your current medication checked – if you are taking medication already, it could be that your erection problems are a side effect. Have a doctor check whether this is the cause of your problems and if it is, you might be able to switch medications and then find that your erectile dysfunction goes away completely – or at least improves. Medications that can cause erection problems include:
Inflatable prostheses are complex mechanical devices that imitate the natural process of erection. Parts are inserted surgically into the penis and scrotum, and activated by squeezing. When erection is no longer desired, a valve on the pump is pressed, and the penis becomes flaccid. Self-contained single-unit prostheses are similar to the inflatable types, but more compact. The entire device is implanted into the penis. When erection is desired, the unit is activated by either squeezing or bending, depending on which of the two types of self-contained prostheses is used.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual performance. The prevalence of ED has been estimated as nearly 40% of men >40 years of age1 although these figures are contested.2 ED increases in frequency with age and is estimated to affect 15% of men aged 40–50 years, 45% of men in their 60s and 70% of men older than 70 years.3 Successful erection is a complex system involving reflex action (peripheral nerves and spinal cord), the limbic system (psychogenic stimuli) and the release of nitric oxide. Adequate levels of testosterone are required, and hence an intact hypothalamic/pituitary/testicular axis. Hence, ED can result from disease or treatment that produces hormonal deficiency, neurological impairment, problems with penile blood flow, disorders of tissue mechanics, psychological factors or any combination of these.
Apostolo A,  Vignati C,  Brusoni D,  Cattadori G,  Contini M,  Veglia F,  Magrì D,  Palermo P,  Tedesco C,  Doria E,  Fiorentini C,  Montorsi P,  Agostoni P. Erectile dysfunction in heart failure: correlation with severity, exercise performance, comorbidities, and heart failure treatment, J Sex Med , 2009, vol. 6 (pg. 2795-2805)https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01416.x
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Almost every class of antihyper-tensive medication has been implicated in causing ED; however, most of these studies, published as case reports or patient surveys, have been relatively subjective and uncontrolled.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
80. Montorsi F, Briganti A, Salonia A, Rigatti P, Margonato A, Macchi A, Galli S, Ravagnani PM, Montorsi P. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 2003;44:360–364; discussion 364-365. [PubMed]
There’s one more thing to remember: A visit to a physician can be helpful even if a man doesn’t want to go near Viagra or try one of the alternatives. In some cases, a treatable medical condition such as low testosterone or depression could explain a case of ED. “Sexual health should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an essential component to wellness,” said urologist Ryan P. Terlecki, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil is absorbed rapidly, and peak plasma levels of 127 to 560 ng/mL are seen in a fasting state approximately 1 hour (range, 0.5-2 hours) after ingestion.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C

“The presence of erectile dysfunction portends a higher risk of future cardiovascular events, particularly in intermediate-risk men, and may serve as an opportunity for intensification of cardiovascular risk prevention strategies,” wrote Boston University heart specialists Naomi Hamburg, MD and Matt Kluge, MD, in an accompanying editorial. “The findings add to the growing evidence supporting additional trials to determine the clinical impact of erectile dysfunction screening and the appropriate cardiovascular directed evaluation and treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.”


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 diagnosis of ED in a patient may affect its management in two ways.30 The first relates to the fact that the ED patient, irrespective of whether he has or has not established CVD, is ‘reclassified’ into a higher risk category for future CV events. Management in this case is altered in the sense that more aggressive treatment of risk factors, as well as a close follow-up, is warranted. Implementation of biomarkers in this setting is desirable.

On any matter relating to your health or well-being, please check with an appropriate health professional. No statement herein is to be construed as a diagnosis, treatment, preventative, or cure for any disease, disorder or abnormal physical state. The statements herein have not been evaluated by the Foods and Drugs Administration or Health Canada. Dr. Marchione and the doctors on the Bel Marra Health Editorial Team are compensated by Bel Marra Health for their work in creating content, consulting along with formulating and endorsing products.

Although the results provide evidence that PDE5 inhibitors may benefit heart health, the retrospective study design makes it impossible to ascertain direct cause and effect, Andersson noted. It is possible that using erectile dysfunction drugs simply indicates a more active sex life, which could itself contribute to, or be a marker of, a heart-healthy lifestyle overall.


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.”
However, population-based studies of ED in prostate cancer survivors also document that ED has a negative effect on general health. Penson, et al.36 studied HRQOL in 2,306 prostate cancer survivors 2 years after their diagnosis. They noted that men with ED (defined as erections that were insufficient for sexual intercourse) had significantly worse general HRQOL when compared to prostate cancer survivors who were potent. Importantly, this association remained in a multivariate analysis that controlled for 31 other potential confounding variables. Finally, this association was noted in both the physical and mental domains of general quality of life, indicating that ED has a much broader effect on quality of life than one might expect.
Stem cell therapy is an attractive treatment modality and an appealing option for tissue regenerative therapy for ED. Stem cells are pluripotent cells that can be produced from multiple regions within the body. They have the potential to divide and differentiate into numerous kinds of human cells, such as endothelial cells and smooth muscle.79 The efficacy and safety of gene and stem cell therapy in patients with ED and IHD need to be extensively investigated because both seem to have the potential to correct underlying abnormalities in ED. This would be a huge development in terms of management options for patients with ED and IHD.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Cardiologists use METs of oxygen consumption to compare the energy expenditure of different forms of 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

Guidelines recommend that phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors are the first-line drug for the treatment of ED (Table 1). Sildenafil citrate was the first oral drug approved for ED in the US.59 The newer PDE5 inhibitors include vardenafil, tadalafil and avanafil. The inhibition of PDE5 enhances cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP)-NO-mediated vasodilatation by preventing PDE5 catabolism of cGMP and so delaying detumescence. PDE5 inhibitors increase the number and duration of erections, as well as the percentage of successful sexual intercourse.60
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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (443) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin and other NO donors work through the same NO-cGMP pathway that sildenafil affects, thereby decreasing vascular resistance and blood pressure level.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

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.
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.

Physical and emotional stress — whether over-exercising, under-sleeping or just dealing with everyday stressors like work and a busy schedule — causes an increase in “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline. Stress can lower desire for sex. This is because stress can contribute to fatigue or preoccupation with other tasks. It can also significantly affect blood flow by increasing inflammation.


Having chronically high blood pressure can affect overall satisfaction with sex and affect men’s ability to achieve a firm erection. Due to constant vessel damage as a result of high blood pressure, linings of the arteries begin to harden and narrow, a process called atherosclerosis. Because blood flow is limited to the affected regions of the body, arterial blood circulation to various organs—including the heart muscles, brain, and even the groin—can be compromised, with myocardial infarctions, strokes, and erectile difficulty being common in hypertensive patients. Studies show that approximately 30 percent of hypertensive patients reported having erectile dysfunction, and approximately 49 percent of men aged 40 to 79 had both high blood pressure and ED.
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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