Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common in cardiac patients and shares the same risk factors--smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and diabetes mellitus. Sexual activity is not unduly stressful to the heart and, providing patients are properly assessed using established guidelines, sexual intercourse can be enjoyed without increased risk. The treatment of ED in patients with cardiovascular disease has been transformed by the introduction of the oral phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, the first of which was sildenafil. Success in restoring erectile function is possible in up to 80% of patients (depending on the aetiology) with minimal adverse effects. A synergistic hypotensive effect with nitrates, and almost certainly nicorandil, is the only major contraindication. ED in asymptomatic patients may be a marker of silent vascular disease or increased vascular risk factors and should alert the physician to the need for cardiac risk screening. ED is common in patients with cardiovascular disease and should be routinely enquired about. ED is a distressing condition for the man and his partner, and severely impairs quality of life. Patients with cardiovascular disease and patients with diabetes represent the largest group of patients with ED, the majority of whom benefit from the drug therapies currently available. Addressing ED in patients with cardiovascular disease can lead to a substantial improvement in quality of life and success is not difficult to achieve.
Ginkgo biloba. Known primarily as a treatment for cognitive decline, ginkgo has also been used to treat erectile dysfunction -- especially cases caused by the use of certain antidepressant medications. But the evidence isn't very convincing. One 1998 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that it did work. But a more rigorous study, published in Human Pharmacology in 2002, failed to replicate this finding. "Ginkgo has come out of fashion in the past few years," says Ronald Tamler, MD, assistant professor of medicine and codirector of the men's health program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "That's because it doesn't do much. I can say that in my practice, I have not seen ginkgo work -- ever."
Neurological (nerve and brain) diseases: The nervous system plays a vital part in achieving and maintaining an erection. It is common for men with conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries to experience ED. This is due to an interruption in the transmission of nerve impulses between the brain and the penis.
ED is a common disease affecting men with IHD. Endothelial dysfunction is the link between ED and IHD and both diseases share the same aetiology, risk factors and pathogenesis. Aggressive control of these risk factors – along with lifestyle modification – is recommended to improve symptoms of ED and reduce cardiovascular risk. PDE5 inhibitors remain the first-choice treatment for ED in IHD patients and they have been shown to be safe and effective. However, PDE5 inhibitors can potentiate the hypotensive effect of nitrates so concomitant administration of sildenafil and nitrates is contraindicated. Gene and stem cell therapy are being investigated as a future therapies for ED.

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
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.
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine's effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects. Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor's supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
Yet another common erectile dysfunction treatment that can be used in combination with oral drugs is a vacuum pump. This device consists of a plastic cylinder, a pump, a set of constriction bands, and a water-soluble lubricant. The lubricant is applied to the base of the penis to help form an airtight seal. The cylinder is placed over the flaccid penis and held tight against the pelvis. The pump is used to create a vacuum within the cylinder, drawing blood into the penis. Once the penis is engorged with blood, a constriction band is rolled off the cylinder to near the base of the penis. The constriction band is helpful for men with venous leakage, in which blood flows out of the penis as fast as it flows in. However, it should be left on for no more than 30 minutes at a time.
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
L-arginine, an amino acid that is naturally present in the body and helps make nitric oxide, supports a successful erection. Nitric oxide is responsible for making the blood vessels relax, which helps sustain an erection for men. A 1999 study, observed the effects of six weeks of high-dose (5 grams/day) orally administered nitric oxide (NO) donor L-arginine on men with organic ED. Thirty-one percent of those who took 5 grams/day of L-arginine experienced significant improvements in sexual function. Burns told Medical Daily, “l-arginine and deer antler velvet” have been the most popular go-to natural treatments for men.
According to the Mayo Clinic, oral medications are usually the first-line treatment for ED. Those medications include Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra). They operate by helping relax muscles in the penis by strengthening the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring chemical in the body. The drugs increase blood flow to allow patients to get an erection.
But there are also medical devices like the Elator, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is custom-made with medical-grade silicone based on a patient’s girth and shaft. The technology, which has no known risk factors, has two thin bars that glide along the bottom of the penis, and hold the organ partially or fully erect with a soft, flexible loop, a sliding latch and a base lock and base ring.

Patients who use this therapy should be trained under the guidance of a urologist, and sterile technique must be used. The drugs must be injected into the shaft of the penis and into one of the penile erectile bodies (corpus cavernosum) 10–15 min before intercourse. Most patients do not complain of pain upon injection. Sexual stimulation is not required, and resulting erections may last for hours. Side effects include penile pain and priapism. The cost is about $12–20 per injection.


Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (19) | Google ScholarSee all References However, there has been disagreement regarding the effects of diuretics on erectile function; many studies found that only rarely have these medications been implicated convincingly as the cause of a patient's ED.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31
Lindau ST,  Abramsohn E,  Gosch K,  Wroblewski K,  Spatz ES,  Chan PS,  Spertus J,  Krumholz HM. Patterns and loss of sexual activity in the year following hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction (a United States National Multisite Observational Study), Am J Cardiol , 2012, vol. 109 (pg. 1439-1444)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.01.355
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In a study by Segal et al. (11), 4 out of 5 healthy individuals were able to achieve tumescence beyond 60% maximum rigidity when subjected to PVS using the Viberect® alone, with no other external visual sexual stimulation. In a randomized controlled study by Fode et al. (12) involving 68 men who underwent nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, 30 men who received PVS to the frenulum daily for 6 weeks, using the Ferticare® vibrator, showed a trend towards better erections. After 1 year, 53% in the PVS group had an IIEF score ≥18 compared with 32% in the control group, although no statistical achievement was achieved. The role of PVS in penile rehabilitation is based on the postulation that PVS provides early activation of the parasympathetic erectile spinal centres at S2–S4 level, which result in early recovery of the neuropraxic cavernosal nerves.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Glycemia, as measured by glycosylated hemoglobin, also has been associated with the risk of developing ED in diabetic patients.21x21Klein, R, Klein, BE, Lee, KE, Moss, SE, and Cruickshanks, KJ. Prevalence of self-reported erectile dysfunction in people with long-term IDDM. Diabetes Care. 1996; 19: 135–141
Taking one of these tablets will not automatically produce an erection. Sexual stimulation is needed first to cause the release of nitric oxide from your penile nerves. These medications amplify that signal, allowing some men to function normally. Oral erectile dysfunction medications are not aphrodisiacs, will not cause excitement and are not needed in men who get normal erections.
Diabetes mellitus is associated with both decreased erectile function and increased cardiovascular risk. The MMAS found that the age-adjusted probability of complete impotence was 3 times higher in patients with diabetes mellitus than in those without the disease.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)
Some research even suggests the effect of blood pressure drugs may be more psychological than physical. When ED occurs after a man begins to take a new medication, it's possible that anxiety about his health, rather than the medication, may trigger the problem. And being aware of possible side effects may make a man more likely to recognize them as abnormal.
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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.

 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. 

Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References A 1985 study found that ED accounted for 400,000 outpatient visits and 30,000 hospital admissions per year in the United States, with a direct total cost of $146 million.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


Conversely, and of significant clinical importance, is how often patients with ED as their first and sole clinical manifestation suffer from subclinical CAD.17 Previous studies reported a rate of inducible ischaemia by exercise stress testing (EST) in 22% (with a wide range of 5–56%) of ED patients reflecting differences in patient population, risk factors and criteria used for ED and CAD diagnosis. Interestingly, those patients further assessed with coronary angiography had obstructive atherosclerosis in >90% of cases.4,18 In a prospective angiographic study, we documented that 19% of ED patients suffer from clinically silent obstructive CAD.18

Even if you do not take blood pressure drugs, you should get your blood pressure checked as high BP also can be a sign of ED. In fact, men with ED are about 38% more likely to have high blood pressure than those without ED, according to a study that examined the medical records of more than 1.9 million men. That is not too surprising, since ED often occurs in men who smoke or are overweight—both of which are common risk factors for high blood pressure.
Following the breakthrough in ED treatment using PDE5-inhibitors, Western medicine has now moved on to a new frontier of regenerative medicine, with stem cell and gene therapy leading the way (25). There is a practical need for novel therapy as a significant portion of diabetic or post-prostatectomy ED patients do not respond to oral pharmacotherapy. To date, stem cells derived from different sites including adipose tissue-derived stem cells, bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells and muscle-derived stem cells have been investigated using animal models for ED, to study their effects on neural, vascular, endothelial or smooth muscle regeneration (25,26).
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (77) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator that is commonly used as an antianginal agent because of its ability to improve the imbalance between myocardial oxygen supply and demand.65x65Stamler, JS, Loh, E, Roddy, MA, Currie, KE, and Creager, MA. Nitric oxide regulates basal systemic and pulmonary vascular resistance in healthy humans. Circulation. 1994; 89: 2035–2040

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


While Western medicine emphases the link between cardiovascular function and ED, TCM places importance on liver and kidney ailments as causative factor for development of ED. Western medicine involves a step-wise approach by targeting the relevant organ systems to treat various clinical symptoms; but TCM focuses on restoring the balance between various organs to achieve harmony and holistic approach to inner sense (4). The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western medicine and TCM (see Table 1).

There’s some evidence that bark from the yohimbe tree can help with ED. The bark contains a substance called yohimbine. It’s been traditionally used in Africa as an aphrodisiac. Today, a pharmaceutical form of yohimbine (called yohimbine hydrochloride) is being studied to treat erectile dysfunction in men. However, it can cause severe side effects, including high blood pressure, tremors, and anxiety.
The blood supply to your penis starts in your heart and flows through arteries in the belly to even smaller arteries that branch off to carry blood into the penis. With sexual stimulation, these blood vessels need to rapidly increase blood flow. If these blood vessels are blocked (atherosclerosis) by coronary artery disease, you may not be able to achieve or maintain an erection.11

There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
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