Erectile dysfunction carries an independent risk for cardiovascular events. A considerable number of studies have examined the ability of ED to predict the risk of future fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, revascularization) and total mortality in the general population and in high CV risk patients, in diabetics and in heart failure patients.5,19–22 In a meta-analysis of 14 prospective cohort studies involving 92 757 men followed for a mean period of 6.1 years (Figure 4), ED increased significantly and independently of traditional risk factors the risk of CV events, CV mortality, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular events, and all-cause mortality by 44, 19, 62, 39, and 25% respectively.5 This predictive ability also extends in men with known CVD: ED increased the risk of all-cause mortality by 90%.5 Of importance, the predictive ability of ED is higher in younger ED patients5 despite the fact that probability of ED increases with age, most likely identifying a group of patients with early and aggressive vascular disease.23 Clinical implementation of ED as a biomarker relies on whether its addition on classical risk scores such as the Systematic COronary Risk Evaluation (SCORE) or the Framingham correctly reclassifies a meaningful percentage of patients into a higher or lower risk category. To this end, data are limited. Yet, in a population-based study of men 40–70 years of age, the addition of the ED status to the Framingham risk score resulted in a reclassification of 6.4% of low-risk patients to intermediate risk.19

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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Open-label trials showed a myocardial infarction rate of only 1.0 event per 1000 person-years of treatment with sildenafil.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Erectile dysfunction carries an independent risk for cardiovascular events. A considerable number of studies have examined the ability of ED to predict the risk of future fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, revascularization) and total mortality in the general population and in high CV risk patients, in diabetics and in heart failure patients.5,19–22 In a meta-analysis of 14 prospective cohort studies involving 92 757 men followed for a mean period of 6.1 years (Figure 4), ED increased significantly and independently of traditional risk factors the risk of CV events, CV mortality, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular events, and all-cause mortality by 44, 19, 62, 39, and 25% respectively.5 This predictive ability also extends in men with known CVD: ED increased the risk of all-cause mortality by 90%.5 Of importance, the predictive ability of ED is higher in younger ED patients5 despite the fact that probability of ED increases with age, most likely identifying a group of patients with early and aggressive vascular disease.23 Clinical implementation of ED as a biomarker relies on whether its addition on classical risk scores such as the Systematic COronary Risk Evaluation (SCORE) or the Framingham correctly reclassifies a meaningful percentage of patients into a higher or lower risk category. To this end, data are limited. Yet, in a population-based study of men 40–70 years of age, the addition of the ED status to the Framingham risk score resulted in a reclassification of 6.4% of low-risk patients to intermediate risk.19

Although ED can become a permanent condition, this typically isn’t the case for men who experience occasional erectile difficulties. If you have diabetes, you may still be able to overcome ED through a lifestyle that includes sufficient sleep, no smoking, and stress reduction. ED medications are usually well-tolerated, and can be used for many years to help overcome any ED problems.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Sleep studies in 175 patients with hypertension and erectile problems showed significantly lower penile rigidity measured by strain gauge plethysmography compared with 110 normotensive male controls with similar subjective erectile problems.33x33Hirshkowitz, M, Karacan, I, Gurakar, A, and Williams, RL. Hypertension, erectile dysfunction, and occult sleep apnea. Sleep. 1989; 12: 223–232
Nonsustained erection with detumescence after penetration is most commonly caused by anxiety or the vascular steel syndrome. In the vascular steel syndrome, blood is diverted from the engorged corpora cavernosae to accommodate the oxygen requirements of the thrusting pelvis. Questions should be asked regarding the presence or absence of nocturnal or morning erections and the ability to masturbate. Complete loss of nocturnal erections and the ability to masturbate are signs of neurological or vascular disease. It is important to remember that sexual desire is not lost with ED—only the ability to act on those emotions.
Abnormalities in the vascular, neural, endocrine, muscular, or psychiatric systems can result in ED.2,3 EDDM is due to multisystemic disease. Atrophy or apoptosis of cavernosal smooth muscle can occur due to loss of Bcl-2 expression in cavernosal smooth muscle and lead to ED. Abnormal amounts of advanced glycation end products is a common occurrence. These chemicals may have an effect on potassium channels that facilitate intracellular calcium release and subsequent cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation. Connective tissue synthesis is increased due to transforming growth factor-beta. The decrease in smooth muscle and the increase in collagen decreases the compliance of the erectile tissue. Neuropathic damage to both the somatic and autonomic nerves has been clearly defined in DM. Partial occlusion of the pelvic or intracavernosal arteries, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, and depression associated with a chronic illness (DM) can all play a primary or secondary role in the development of EDDM. On a molecular level, studies have demonstrated decreased levels of endothelial and neuronal nitric acid synthase (NS) and decreased cavernosal artery and sinusoidal response to nitric oxide. Abnormalities in nitric oxide rapidly render the functional syncytium of the corpora cavernosa unable to synchronously relax. As the patient with diabetes ages, the concentration of constrictors, including endothelin, prostanoids, and possibly angiotensin, increases as the production of the relaxants, including nitric oxide, vasointestinal peptide, and prostacyclin, decreases.
There are a number of herbs and supplements for use in men with ED. However, the overall quality of the studies evaluating these treatments has been low. Therefore, evidence for the effectiveness and safety of these therapies is limited. Many of these therapies have known risks, and there’s a possibility that other risks are yet to be discovered. Always use CAM therapies with caution.
The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.

A follow-up study from the ExCEED database compared men with ED and prostate cancer to men with ED without prostate cancer and found that the prostate cancer survivors had worse erectile function but reported better quality of life than those without prostate cancer.37 The authors hypothesized that the prostate cancer survivors were able to “rationalize” away their sexual dysfunction with the knowledge that they may have been “cured” of their prostate cancer. Clearly, diabetic men could not use the same rationale.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is strongly associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), the persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, but this condition can be successfully treated in the majority of diabetes patients. ED is present in 32% of type 1 and 46% of type 2 DM patients. Several population- based studies of ED prevalence calculated the odds ratios for the association between ED and various chronic diseases. An odds ratio must be sufficiently greater than 1.0 to identify an increased risk. Diabetes has an odds ratio, ED risk multiplier of 4.1, compared with 1.7 for hyperlipidemia and 1.6 for hypertension. Erectile dysfunction in diabetes mellitus (EDDM) patients has been considered to have an organic etiology. Healthcare providers have long realized that ED can be the first symptom of DM.
With atherosclerosis, the blood vessels are not able to dilate properly, which is called endothelial dysfunction (see the Figure). Cholesterol builds up in the blood vessel walls and forms plaques, which make the vessels narrow and slow down blood flow. When a plaque becomes very advanced, it can completely stop blood from passing through, which is what happens in a heart attack. Atherosclerosis affects not only the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries), but also blood vessels throughout the entire body. Atherosclerosis causes angina (chest pain that is often exertional), heart attacks, strokes, claudication (pain in the legs with walking), and ED. Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years. This warning sign can be a good thing if it alerts you and your doctor that you have atherosclerosis, because then you can take steps to treat the atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack or stroke.

Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.
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
Treatments might be slightly different for different people, depending on their risk factors, but in general all treatment plans have similar elements: diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary (see the Table). Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of the treatment of atherosclerosis. Every diet should include low salt (especially for high blood pressure), low fat and cholesterol (especially for high cholesterol), and limited total calories (especially for patients who are overweight). People with diabetes mellitus should limit their intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise helps to limit atherosclerosis. The more exercise, the better, but every little bit helps. The general recommendation is 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Check with your doctor to be sure that an exercise program is safe for you. Cigarettes cause a variety of health problems, including atherosclerosis, so cigarette smoking should be stopped. If diet and exercise are not enough to control your atherosclerotic risk factors, then your doctor will prescribe medications. Heart attacks are prevented by controlling atherosclerotic risk factors, which means diet, exercise, and medications if necessary.
With atherosclerosis, the blood vessels are not able to dilate properly, which is called endothelial dysfunction (see the Figure). Cholesterol builds up in the blood vessel walls and forms plaques, which make the vessels narrow and slow down blood flow. When a plaque becomes very advanced, it can completely stop blood from passing through, which is what happens in a heart attack. Atherosclerosis affects not only the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries), but also blood vessels throughout the entire body. Atherosclerosis causes angina (chest pain that is often exertional), heart attacks, strokes, claudication (pain in the legs with walking), and ED. Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years. This warning sign can be a good thing if it alerts you and your doctor that you have atherosclerosis, because then you can take steps to treat the atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack or stroke.
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
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Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References In conclusion, sildenafil, when used alone, seems to produce minimal decreases in blood pressure level, which are well tolerated in healthy patients and in those with stable ischemic coronary disease.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood gets deposited in arteries, the blood vessels that feed the heart and brain. These deposits can join with other substances to form plaque, a thick, hard deposit in the blood vessel that leads to atherosclerosis. Plaque can narrow the passageway inside the artery and pinch off the flow of blood to the heart muscle, and to the penis.
Qigong is a form of breathing exercises commonly practised in Asia to maintain health (53). In a cross-sectional population-based comparison study in Taiwan, individuals practising Qigong demonstrate higher SF-36 scores in the domains of physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, bodily pain, general health and vitality (54). Techniques to concentrate the energy or qi in the pelvis or genitals are regularly practised, but the effects of Qigong on ED have not been studied.
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.
Older age. A man’s risk increases past the age of 40, as age is the variable most strongly associated with impotence. This is due to changing hormones, higher risk for heart problems and those affecting circulation, and decreased sexual desire that often occurs with increasing age. For example, based on findings from the National Health and Social Life Survey, it’s been found that “men between 50–60 years old are more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared to men aged 18 to 29 years.” (3)
A study conducted by Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne Australia published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that men over 20 years of age with erectile dysfunction (ED) have twice the risk of cardiovascular incidents than those of men with normal sexual health. It was also found out that 2% of men aged 55 and older experienced major stroke and cardiac arrest after the initial episode of ED, within a year; 11% experienced something within five years.  Experts from Prince Henry’s Institute warned men with these failures to seek advice on erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure. This may indicate a missing vital warning sign of impending heart disease. Why is this happening? Do men with ED predispose themselves to have cardiovascular diseases and strokes or just the other way around?
Unlike intraurethral suppositories, intracavernosal injection (IC) injection of vasoactive agents such as PGE-1 has consistently been shown to be effective in the treatment of ED in men with diabetes. In a study of 336 men with diabetes-related ED, 83% of patients reported erections satisfactory for intercourse after IC injection of PGE-1.55 Unfortunately, 24% of these patients also reported penile pain, one of the most common side effects of IC injection therapy. Other studies have noted similar effectiveness rates.56,57
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Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References The 9-year follow-up MMAS study also found that self-reported increased cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake correlated positively with the development 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
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References During a 9-year follow-up study of 513 of these men who had no ED at the first study, the risk of new-onset ED was analyzed.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
Testosterone therapy in hypogonadism modulates metabolic components associated with CV risk. The majority of prospective clinical studies indicates that treatment achieving testosterone levels within physiological limits has beneficial or neutral effects on a lipid profile other than HDL-C, beneficial or neutral effects on inflammatory mediators, and generally beneficial effects on glycaemic state.25 The lean body mass is typically increased in hypogonadal subjects, and visceral adiposity is decreased in several studies and unchanged in the remainder. Such metabolic effects have raised interest on the potential impact on cardiovascular health. Regarding symptoms in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure) TTh has been either neutral or beneficial.25 Regarding CVD risk, available clinical trial data indicate that the use of testosterone in middle-aged to elderly men does not increase cardiovascular risk25 with the exception of one study in very frail (substantial limitation of mobility and a high rate of comorbidities) elderly subjects that used an off-label high, and rapid escalation, dosing regimen.46 Prospective data from large, well-designed, long-term trials of TTh are warranted.
A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the effects of untreated erectile dysfunction, or conversely, the effect of having an active sex life without taking erectile dysfunction drugs. The researchers also were unable to account for socioeconomic status; as a next step, they are planning a larger study that will include more health records and complete information on marital status, educational level and disposable income. They are also pursuing a separate analysis of outcomes from erectile dysfunction drugs in men with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (47) | Google ScholarSee all References Because of this perceived increase in risk, many couples are concerned about resuming sexual activity in the setting of cardiac disease. A study that monitored male patients after coronary artery bypass grafting found that 17% of patients and 35% of their partners were afraid of resuming sexual activity.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References After controlling for age, trauma, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus, a study of 97 young patients with ED who underwent selective pudendal angiography showed a significant relationship between lifetime cigarette smoking and the degree of internal pudendal and common penile arterial atherosclerosis.28x28Rosen, MP, Greenfield, AJ, Walker, TG et al. Cigarette smoking: an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis in the hypogastric-cavernous arterial bed of men with arteriogenic impotence. J Urol. 1991; 145: 759–763
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.
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