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 | Google ScholarSee all References In the general population, the estimated relative risk of experiencing a myocardial infarction within 2 hours after sexual intercourse is approximately 2.5 times higher than the baseline infarction risk of that individual, which itself is extremely low8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a study of 132 patients evaluated by penile duplex ultrasonography after intracorporeal papaverine injection found that hypertension alone was not an independent risk factor for vasculogenic ED.34x34Shabsigh, R, Fishman, IJ, Schum, C, and Dunn, JK. Cigarette smoking and other vascular risk factors in vasculogenic impotence. Urology. 1991; 38: 227–231

Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse.  To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.

Erectile dysfunction is frequent in patients with established CAD with prevalence rates ranging between 47 and 75% in studies.2,4,14 The AssoCiatiOn Between eRectile dysfunction and coronary Artery disease (COBRA) trial tested the hypothesis that the ED rate differs in CAD patients according to the clinical presentation (acute vs. chronic coronary syndromes) and the extent of vessel involvement (one vs. two to three vessel disease)15 (Figure 3). The overall ED prevalence in CAD patients was 47%, whereas in the normal coronary angiography group the ED rate was 24%. When separately considered, the ED rate was 22% in patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and one-vessel disease and 55 and 65% in patients with ACS and multi-vessel disease and with chronic coronary syndrome, respectively. The study also showed that both severity (IIEF <10) and duration (>24 months) of ED were predictive of severe coronary involvement at angiography. This study offers pathophysiological and mechanistic explanations related to the clinical setting. In patients with multi-vessel disease, regardless of the clinical presentation, the advanced coronary and systemic atherosclerosis is the reason for the high rate of ED. However, in the setting of acute myocardial infarction with one-vessel disease, ED is far less frequent because the atherosclerotic burden is modest (i.e. abrupt occlusion of a single non-obstructing plaque in the absence of extensive atherosclerosis) in both the coronary and penile circulations.15,16


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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (259) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil should be used with caution in patients with liver dysfunction or renal impairment, as well as in patients taking any medications that inhibit the P-450 pathway such as cimetidine or erythromycin.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.
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

Preclinical and clinical trials of these oral agents have clearly demonstrated that they are well tolerated by most DM patients and have an efficacy rate superior to other oral agents. The ultimate result is an improved quality of life (QOL) in EDDM patients. With a greater willingness of DM patients to discuss and seek treatment for ED, it is highly probable that the use of these oral agents will continue to increase. The goal of this article is to provide the physician and pharmacist with a background and working knowledge of these oral agents and their present-day alternatives.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References These hormonal findings were supported by a study of 1132 men aged 30 to 79 years that found an inverse relationship between blood pressure and serum testosterone levels.32x32Khaw, KT and Barrett-Connor, E. Blood pressure and endogenous testosterone in men: an inverse relationship. J Hypertens. 1988; 6: 329–332
Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
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.

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

Dey J. “Evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes mellitus.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 77. 2002. 276-282. Shabsigh R. “Erectile Dysfunction in Men with Diabetes Mellitus.” Men’s Sexual Health Consult Collection. 2006 Nov. Moore C, Wang R. “Pathophysiology and treatment of diabetic erectile dysfunction.” Asian J Andrology. 2006 Nov. 8: 67-684. Penson D, Latini D, Lubeck D, Wallace K, Henning J, Lue T. “Do impotent men with diabetes have more severe erectile dysfunction and worse quality of life than general population of impotent patients?” Diabetes Care 26. 2003. 1093-1099. Sun P, Cameron A, Seftel A, Shabsigh R, Niederberger C, Guay A. “Erectile dysfunction – an observable marker of diabetes mellitus? A large national epidemiological study.” Journal of Urology 176. 2006. 1081-1085.

4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Erectile dysfunction (updated Nov 2015). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/erectile-dysfunction/Pages/facts.aspx (accessed Nov 2016). myDr myDr provides comprehensive Australian health and medical information, images and tools covering symptoms, diseases, tests, medicines and treatments, and nutrition and fitness.Related ArticlesImpotence causesFind out the physical and psychological causes of impotence, also called erectile dysfunction or ED.Erectile dysfunction: visiting your doctorFind out what questions a doctor may ask when discussing erectile dysfunction (ED, or impotence8 Surprising causes of erectile dysfunctionOccasional erectile dysfunction is not uncommon, but if it's persistent, erectile dysfunction caAdvertisement
A disruption anywhere along the complex chain of events will impair the capacity to have an erection. Any man who has experienced the frustration of male impotence knows that the consequences extend beyond physical dissatisfaction to anxiety, tension, and embarrassment. A common reason for failure of the erectile apparatus is disruption of the path leading to nitric oxide production and blood flow control.
The discovery in 1992 of the second messenger of cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation was the critical step that led to the era of nonhormonal oral drug therapy for ED. In 1998, the multicenter trial of sildenafil in the treatment of ED was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the era of the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitor began.1 For 5 years, sildenafil was the primary therapy for men with EDDM. Recently, 2 new PDE-5 inhibitors, vardenafil and tadalafil, were introduced.
Another oral treatment that has been used with very little success is yohimbine (Yocon, Yohimex). This is an alpha 2 adrenergic receptor blocker that increases cholinergic and decreases adrenergic tone. It stimulates the mid-brain and increases libido. Optimal results occur when used in men with psychogenic ED. Side effects include anxiety and insomnia.
Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to attain or maintain a penile erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. Cases of ED may be classified as predominantly organic in nature, predominantly psychogenic, or mixed. Usual organic aetiologies are vasculogenic, hormonal, and neurogenic. Owing to the relationship of vasculogenic ED with CVD, it is important to distinguish men with predominantly vasculogenic ED from those with predominantly psychogenic ED or non-vasculogenic organic ED.
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
In another study, 60 patients underwent stress exercise cardiovascular testing and Doppler ultrasonography for measurement of their cavernosal artery peak systolic velocity (PSV).17x17Kawanishi, Y, Lee, KS, Kimura, K et al. Screening of ischemic heart disease with cavernous artery blood flow in erectile dysfunctional patients. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 100–103
Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.
Diabetes is one of the most common causes of ED. Men who have Diabetes are three times more likely to have Erectile Dysfunction than men who do not have Diabetes. Among men with ED, those with Diabetes are likely to have experienced the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without Diabetes. A recent study of a clinic population revealed that 5% of the men with ED also had undiagnosed Diabetes. The risk of ED increases with the number of years you have Diabetes and the severity of your Diabetes. Even though 20% to 75% of men with Diabetes have ED, it can be successfully managed in almost all men. 

Other effective Diabetic Erectile Dysfunction Treatment therapies available include (a) an intraurethral suppository of the vasodilator drug alprostadil (prostaglandin E1), (b) intracavernosal self injection (penile self injection) of the non-specific PDE drug papaverine, the non-selective alpha-adrenergic antagonist phentolamine, and the vasodilator prostaglandin E1, used alone or in combination, or (c) penile prostheses (penile implants).
Medicines known as PDE5 inhibitors can help two-thirds of men with ED. These include Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil). You may need to take several doses over time before they work properly, and you may need to adjust the dose. National guidelines say you can be prescribed these drugs from six months after a heart attack, providing your condition is stable.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References The use of any NO-donor medications should be avoided for 24 hours after the last dose of sildenafil and even longer if there is a suspected prolonged half-life secondary to such conditions as renal insufficiency.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Relaxation of erectile tissue requires nitric oxide from nonadrenergic-noncholinergic neurons and the endothelium.21 Penile tissue from diabetic men with ED demonstrates impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of smooth muscle,22 increased accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs),23 and upregulation arginase, a competitor with nitric oxide synthase for its substrate L-arginine.24 Normal responses to direct smooth muscle relaxants in most of these studies implies that the impairments are due to decreased synthesis, release, or activity of nitric oxide. The fundamental mechanisms mediating these changes are thought to be the same as for other diabetic complications: increased polyol pathway flux, intracellular accumulation of AGEs, activation of protein kinase C, and increased flux through the hexosamine pathway.25
Recent revised labeling for sildenafil states that there is a lack of controlled data for its use in patients with resting hypotension (<90/50 mm Hg) or hypertension (>170/110 mm Hg); a history of myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the past 6 months; coronary artery disease or cardiac failure causing unstable angina; or retinitis pigmentosa and possible genetic disorders of retinal PDEs.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

Undoubtedly, heart disease is and will continue to be one of the major health problems of modern society. Approximately one death every forty seconds occurs due to cardiovascular (CV) disease in the United States alone and arterial hypertension is one of the greatest culprits for it[1]. Considering the fact that around 25% of the global population suffer from arterial hypertension, predicted to reach 1.5 billion people in the foreseeable future, it is easily deducted that a respectful part of the general population is under major and constant CV risk[2,3].
Erectile dysfunction is an accurate predictor of heart attacks and strokes in the future. Psychogenic components play a role in erectile dysfunction, but the most common and primary cause in most men is organic vascular insufficiency, meaning not enough blood gets to the penis. Erectile dysfunction usually occurs one to five years before a male manifests overt signs of cardiovascular disease. The first sign may be death.

Hypertension can affect endothelial function in many ways. It can reduce endothelium-dependent vasodilatation by increasing the vasoconstrictor tone as a result of increased peripheral sympathetic activity.41–43 Another mechanism is hypertension-induced increase in cyclooxygenase activity that leads to an increase in reactive oxygen species; these in turn damage endothelial cells and disrupt their function.44–46 In some cases, endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) gene variations may relate to hypertension-associated endothelial dysfunction.6
There are many alternative treatments that may be used to treat erectile dysfunction, although their effectiveness hasn't been proven. Men may benefit from acupuncture to reduce stress and help treat erectile dysfunction. Some people claim that herbal supplements such as Korean red ginseng, ginkgo, and yohimbine may be helpful for treating erectile dysfunction. Other helpful supplements for treating erectile dysfunction may include DHEA (a hormone in testosterone) and L-arginine. However, it's important to remember that these and other supplements may actually contain harmful substances, so talk with your doctor before taking supplements for treating erectile dysfunction.
*all photos are models and not actual patients.If you are interested in a prescription product, Hims will assist in setting up a visit for you with an independent physician who will evaluate whether or not you are an appropriate candidate for the prescription product and if appropriate, may write you a prescription for the product which you can fill at the pharmacy of your choice.
In the past 6 years, the FDA has approved three oral agents for the treatment of ED: sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. All three are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors and work by potentiating the effect of nitric oxide in the penis. In particular, they block the hydrolysis of cyclic guanosine monophosphate to guanosine 5'-monophosphate, thus enhancing nitric oxide–mediated smooth muscle relaxation, increasing blood flow to the penis and facilitating erection.
 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. 
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.

Men with diabetes tend to develop erectile dysfunction 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. As men with diabetes age, erectile dysfunction becomes even more common. Above the age of 50, the likelihood of having difficulty with an erection occurs in approximately 50% to 60% of men with diabetes. Above age 70, there is about a 95% likelihood of having some difficulty with erectile dysfunction.
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