And yes, this may all seem easier said than done, when it comes to a condition that is more often than not the subject of jokes—or the cause of embarrassment. Talking to your doctor is the first step in dealing with this complication, which can wreak havoc on your quality of life. Keeping diabetes in check and enjoying a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference in reducing ED risk, but if that isn't enough, there are successful treatments. Sex brings a range of physical and psychological benefits, whether you have diabetes or not. Preventing or reversing ED isn't just about sex—it's a step toward better health and a more satisfying life.

David F. Penson, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of urology and preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Hunter Wessells, MD, is an associate professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and chief of urology at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.
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
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is highly prevalent affecting at least 50 % of men with diabetes mellitus (DM). DM may cause ED through a number of pathophysiological pathways. These include neuropathy, endothelial dysfunction, cavernosal smooth muscle structural/functional changes, and hormonal changes. Lifestyle changes, diabetes control, and treatment of hypogonadism are important as the first step in ED management since there is no curative treatment for ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) are the first-line treatment option. Intracavernous administration of vasoactive drugs is commonly used as a second-line medical treatment when PDE5i have failed. Alprostadil is the most widely used drug in this second-line setting. The combination of papaverine, phentolamine, and alprostadil represents the most efficacious intracavernous pharmacologic treatment option that may save non-responders to alprostadil. Penile prosthesis implantation can be considered in treatment refractory cases, with excellent functional and safety results in the properly informed patients.
Vascular disease: Vascular diseases are those that affect the blood vessels. These diseases include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol. These diseases, which account for 70% of physical-related causes of ED, restrict blood flow to the heart, the brain, and--in the case of ED--to the penis. Atherosclerosis alone accounts for 50%-60% of ED cases in men over age 60.
A component of the increased risk conferred by ED could be testosterone deficiency.24 Low testosterone leads to increased levels of total and LDL cholesterol, as well as to increased production of pro-inflammatory markers and mediators.25 Endothelial dysfunction and increased arterial wall thickness, stiffening, and calcification also ensue. On this basis it has been hypothesized that chronically lowered testosterone may increase CVD risk. Indeed, androgen deficiency has emerged as a predictor of CV events, as well as of all-cause and CV mortality, both in the general population and in patients with CV risk factors, with hypertension, with established CVD, and with ED.26 Viewed from the opposite angle, higher serum testosterone showed a protective role for CV events in elderly men.27 A 2010 meta-analysis limited to studies in middle-aged men found no association between total testosterone (TT) levels and CVD risk.28 However, a more recent meta-analysis involving a larger number of studies identified significant associations between androgen deficiency and increased risk of CVD and CVD mortality.29 It should be stressed, however, that the nature of these studies cannot prove causality. The possibility that low testosterone may be an epiphenomenon, marking poor general health rather than modulating CVD risk per se has to be explored.
Erections are extremely complicated and surprisingly fragile. Erections involve chemical signals, nerve impulses, complicated blood pressure changes, and overall fitness in systems ranging from your heart and hormones to your mood. When medication changes how one of these factors works—like blood pressure drops or depression medication—ED is a common side effect. The problem with these completely predictable medically induced side effects is how people react.
Arterial hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and affects approximately one third of the adult population worldwide. The vascular origin of erectile dysfunction is now widely accepted in the vast majority of cases. Erectile dysfunction is frequently encountered in patients with arterial hypertension and greatly affects their quality of life of hypertensive patients and their sexual partners. Therefore, the management of erectile dysfunction in hypertensive patients is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients, mainly due to the lack of familiarity with this clinical entity by treating physicians. This review aims to discuss the more frequent problems in the management of hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction and propose ways to overcome these problems in everyday clinical practice.
How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Since then, several other oral PDE-5 inhibitors have been developed, including vardenafil and tadalafil, which generated considerable interest in both the scientific and lay communities. There was also much concern about their safety, especially in men with cardiovascular disease. Compared with the 2 newer PDE-5 inhibitors vardenafil and tadalafil, sildenafil has been available for a much longer time; therefore, the vast majority of published cardiovascular safety studies have been performed on this medication. Recommended starting and maximum doses of oral PDE-5 inhibitors are shown in Table 1.
Diabetic damage doesn’t stop with these small vessels, he said. “You really have two parallel situations: You need blood flow that feeds the muscle of the penis, and you need an artery dedicated to bringing blood rapidly when a man becomes aroused and wants to be sexually active,” he said. “That artery is also affected by diabetes. They’ll say ‘I can get a partial erection, but I can’t maintain it.’ ”
Erectile dysfunction is very common as men age. Erectile dysfunction is frequently a sign of atherosclerosis, a clogging or narrowing of the blood vessels that causes heart attacks. Erectile dysfunction usually comes 3 to 5 years before a heart attack, so after ED is diagnosed, there is time to treat atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack. Treating atherosclerosis involves diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary. Talk with your doctor about a broken sex life, and you might be able to prevent a broken heart.
airdone/ShutterstockErectile dysfunction (ED) is a serious issue for men, which helps explain all the prescription drugs, over-the-counter treatments, and herbal concoctions that claim to cure ED. (In fact, it’s one of the top nine health risks men need to watch out for.) But before any guy decides to take matters into his own hands, he should talk to his doctor about a heart checkup: A new study published in the journal Vascular Medicine suggests ED can signal cardiovascular concerns.

Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Another study evaluated 32 hypertensive men with ED and 78 normotensive men with ED with regard to age, body mass index, hormonal profile, penile arterial flow, risk factors for arterial disease, psychiatric disease, and neurologic disease measured by pudendal nerve conduction studies.30x30Jaffe, A, Chen, Y, Kisch, ES, Fischel, B, Alon, M, and Stern, N. Erectile dysfunction in hypertensive subjects: assessment of potential determinants. Hypertension. 1996; 28: 859–862
Some commonly prescribed cardiovascular drugs (beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, etc.) contribute to ED.18 Previous studies have shown a strong association between ED and diuretics in patients treated with hydrochlorothiazide or chlorthalidone.19,20 It has also been shown that patients treated with first-generation non-selective beta-blockers, such as propranolol, had more frequent ED than those treated with a placebo.21

David F. Penson, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of urology and preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Hunter Wessells, MD, is an associate professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and chief of urology at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.
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.
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

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.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References Most adverse effects are mild and are related primarily to vasodilation (headache, flushing, nasal congestion), gastrointestinal disturbances (dyspepsia), or retinal effects such as vision changes.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
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.
88. Böhm M, Baumhäkel M, Teo K, Sleight P, Probstfield J, Gao P, Mann JF, Diaz R, Dagenais GR, Jennings GL, et al. Erectile dysfunction predicts cardiovascular events in high-risk patients receiving telmisartan, ramipril, or both: The ONgoing Telmisartan Alone and in combination with Ramipril Global Endpoint Trial/Telmisartan Randomized AssessmeNt Study in ACE iNtolerant subjects with cardiovascular Disease (ONTARGET/TRANSCEND) Trials. Circulation. 2010;121:1439–1446. [PubMed]
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References After adjusting for age, vascular disease, psychiatric disease, hormonal factors, and marital status, a study of 4462 US Army veterans aged 31 to 49 years found an odds ratio of 1.8 for the risk of developing ED in men who smoked.26x26Mannino, DM, Klevens, RM, and Flanders, WD. Cigarette smoking: an independent risk factor for impotence?. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 1003–1008
* Low-risk patients include those with complete revascularization (eg, via coronary artery bypass grafting, stenting, or angioplasty), patients with asymptomatic controlled hypertension, those with mild valvular disease, and patients with left ventricular dysfunction/heart failure (NYHA classes I and II) who achieved 5 metabolic equivalents of the task METS without ischemia on recent exercise testing.

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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However, sildenafil should be used carefully with nitrates because their combination can result in severe hypotension and death.68 Both short- and long-acting nitrates are commonly prescribed to treat angina, but they have no prognostic benefit. In addition, there are numerous alternatives to treat angina, such as ranolazine and ivabradine, which do not interact with PDE5 inhibitors. As a result, patients with ED wishing to take PDE5 inhibitors can safely discontinue their nitrates and replace this treatment with the other anti-anginal agents.68
The medicine causes blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow in the body and to the penis, thus helping patients to get an erection. Invasive surgeries that involve rods and balloons are also available to patients suffering from ED. While these treatments often come with potential side effects, discomfort and a financial burden, some ED patients may see success with them.
Several other facts support the close relationship between sexual dysfunction and CV disease. Endothelial dysfunction mediated by decreased nitric-oxide bioavailability as well as atherosclerotic lesions constitute a common pathophysiologic substrate affecting both CV disease and erectile dysfunction, a disease considered to be primarily of vascular origin[76,80-82]. Several traditional CV risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and smoking) are frequently found in individuals with erectile dysfunction, conferring a detrimental cardiovascular burden to them. More interestingly, the increased cardiovascular risk observed in those patients is independent of the aforementioned CV risk factors[81-88].
Nebivolol seems to have an advantage over other beta-blockers when used to treat men with hypertension and ED. It has additional vasodilating effects because it stimulates endothelial release of nitric oxide (NO), resulting in relaxation of smooth muscle in the corpus cavernosum, allowing penile erection.25 Despite limited studies, nebivolol does not seem to worsen erectile function and some studies have demonstrated significant improvement in erectile function with nebivolol compared with second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers.23,26–28
The causes of ED are numerous but generally fall into two categories: organic or psychogenic. The organic causes can be subdivied into five categories: vascular, traumatic/postsurgical, neurological, endocrine-induced, and drug-induced. Examples of the psychogenic causes are depression, performance anxiety, and relationship problems. In people with diabetes, the main risk factors are neuropathy, vascular insufficiency, poor glycemic control, hypertension, low testosterone levels, and possibly a history of smoking.
“I’m hoping this study will drive that (tie) a little bit harder and faster so that physicians will routinely be including ED when they’re screening patients for cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Doctors should ask the question and consider whether hardening of the arteries is occurring, ask about family history and signs or symptoms like chest pain with exertion, and spend the requisite amount of time to find out what’s going on.”
After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes, heart failure and stroke, those taking PDE5 inhibitors were found to be markedly less likely to die than those taking alprostadil or no erectile dysfunction drugs. Filling more prescriptions for PDE5 inhibitors appeared to be associated with a greater benefit, although Andersson said that trend should be interpreted with caution because the study was not large enough for a definitive dose-response analysis.
Intracavernosal and intraurethral injections are second-line therapy for patients with ED. Alprostadil is the agent most commonly used for intracavernosal injections. The main adverse effects of intracavernosal injections are painful erection, priapism and development of scarring at the injection site.73 Alprostadil is also available as a topical cream in patients who cannot tolerate injections.75
A man needs to try the medicine at least four times before he concludes that it doesn’t work for him. It is unlikely that a man with diabetes who has other medical problems such as high blood pressure, is taking multiple medicines, and has not had sexual intercourse for several years will be able to have an erection adequate for intercourse the first time he takes a pill. Most men need to try the medicine several times before they have the desired results.
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