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
It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.
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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)
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phase 2 and 3 trials reported minimal associated cardiac adverse effects, which occurred in 3% of patients taking sildenafil and in 3.5% of patients receiving placebos.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

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.
While a widely held perception is that CVD drugs cause ED, data attest towards the contrary and some agents may be even beneficial.41 Only thiazide diuretics lead clearly to ED, while some older beta-blockers also do so, but the side-effect of ED was very low (∼3%) when the patient was blinded for the drug administration.42 In fact, the vasodilating nebivolol may even improve erectile function.35,43 ACE-inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers, and calcium-channel blockers are reported to have neutral or even a positive effect on erectile function35,41,43 but more evidence is needed. Regarding statins, the largest body of evidence point towards a beneficial effect.44 A negative effect has been reported in high statin doses, possibly related to a potential reduction in serum testosterone levels, but this dose dependency warrants further investigation. In terms of patient management, when ED onset and therapy initiation are linked and a cause-and-effect association is presumed, a short period of drug withdrawal with monitoring for ED resolution for verification may be an option. In patients who developed ED long after the initiation of CV drug treatment, sexual dysfunction is less likely to be drug associated and PDE5 inhibition therapy may be initiated.

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References By 1996, fueled by the availability of the new oral agent sildenafil, the number of outpatient visits for ED as estimated by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey had increased to 1.3 million per year.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
Beta-blockers: A popular blood pressure medication that affects part of the nervous system in an attempt to slow and regulate heartbeats, helping reduce blood pressure. Unfortunately, this same part of the nervous system is also responsible for causing erections, and when beta blockers are used, it indirectly reduces the amount of blood flow to the penis.
Diabetes occurs when you have too much sugar circulating in your bloodstream. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, which affects less than 10 percent of those who have diabetes, and type 2 diabetes, which accounts for over 90 percent of diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes often develops as a result of being overweight or inactive. Approximately 30 million Americans have diabetes, and about half of them are men.
First of all, libido (sexual desire) triggers a sympathetic (adrenaline-dependent) nervous system reaction mediated through the thoracic spinal cord. Also important is tactile stimulation, the pleasurable effect of touch, which is mediated through the acetylcholine-dependent parasympathetic nervous system. Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic forces regulate the release of nitric oxide—the universal artery-relaxing agent—from the cells lining the penile arteries and all its smaller branches. Nitric oxide causes the arteries to enlarge, increasing blood flow into the penile tissues. This is followed by compression of blood-draining penile veins, which causes blood to engorge the penis and create an erection.4
Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.
A collection of risk factors that strongly predict heart disease—termed the metabolic syndrome—is also associated with erectile dysfunction. An increasingly prevalent condition, this syndrome includes low HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood sugar, and heightened inflammation and causes a three-fold or greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is largely attributable to excess weight, poor diet, and inactivity and afflicts at least 47 million Americans, signaling that an epidemic of erectile dysfunction is sure to follow. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 men participating in a health screening revealed that metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by 48%.10

A collection of risk factors that strongly predict heart disease—termed the metabolic syndrome—is also associated with erectile dysfunction. An increasingly prevalent condition, this syndrome includes low HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood sugar, and heightened inflammation and causes a three-fold or greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is largely attributable to excess weight, poor diet, and inactivity and afflicts at least 47 million Americans, signaling that an epidemic of erectile dysfunction is sure to follow. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 men participating in a health screening revealed that metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by 48%.10
Three FDA-approved oral medications, sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil are available. These drugs are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors that can prolong levels of cGMP in tissue allowing improved smooth muscle relaxation, thus facilitating an erection. PDE-5 inhibitor drugs are effective in 56-63% of diabetic men with ED. More stringent glycemic control can improve these results. Men with testosterone deficiency may benefit from a combination of oral ED medication and testosterone supplementation.
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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.
Cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction (ED) are closely interrelated disease processes. Erectile dysfunction reportedly affects 10 million to 20 million men in the United States and more than 100 million men worldwide. Each year, about 500,000 persons in the United States survive a myocardial infarction, and an estimated 11 million have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients. We explore the relationship between ED and the presence of cardiovascular disease in the general population. We also review the prevalence and pathophysiological associations of ED and cardiovascular disease. The risks of sexual activity for patients with cardiovascular disease are discussed, as are prevention and treatment strategies for ED in this patient population.
Mancia G,  Laurent S,  Agabiti-Rosei E,  Ambrosioni E,  Burnier M,  Caulfield MJ,  Cifkova R,  Clément D,  Coca A,  Dominiczak A,  Erdine S,  Fagard R,  Farsang C,  Grassi G,  Haller H,  Heagerty A,  Kjeldsen SE,  Kiowski W,  Mallion JM,  Manolis A,  Narkiewicz K,  Nilsson P,  Olsen MH,  Rahn KH,  Redon J,  Rodicio J,  Ruilope L,  Schmieder RE,  Struijker-Boudier HA,  van Zwieten PA,  Viigimaa M,  Zanchetti A. European Society of HypertensionReappraisal of European guidelines on hypertension management: a European Society of Hypertension Task Force document, J Hypertens , 2009, vol. 27 (pg. 2121-2158)https://doi.org/10.1097/HJH.0b013e328333146d

If your doctor says it's OK, you may be able to stop taking blood pressure medications temporarily to see if your sex life improves. To make sure your blood pressure remains within a safe range, you may need frequent blood pressure readings while you're not taking the blood pressure lowering medication that may be causing your sexual difficulties. This can be done with a home blood pressure monitoring device for convenience.


Table 3 is a suggested algorithm for the assessment of patients and their further categorization and handling. There are parts of investigation that are common for patients both with and without CVD, while additional elements of investigation are helpful in categorizing the patient without CVD to the appropriate risk category. Determination of exercise ability and stress testing is crucial to the assessment (see also below ‘Exercise ability: the risk of sexual activity’). Patients without established CVD or diabetes should be evaluated for their risk of future events according to risk scores (SCORE or Framingham). Patients with established CVD or diabetes are by default considered at increased risk. Patients with adequate exercise ability or a negative stress test can initiate or resume sexual activity and begin treatment for ED. In patients with a positive stress test or in high-risk patients, sexual activity should be deferred until the cardiac condition has been treated and stabilized. In all cases, patient follow-up and reassessment is recommended.
Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.
ED is a common complication of diabetes that affects patients' quality of life. While the etiology of this complication may be multifactorial in nature, it is clear that it usually has a strong organic component. Because men with diabetes value their erectile function highly, it is important that providers encourage them to maintain good glycemic, blood pressure, and lipid control to minimize their risk of developing this complication.
If you’re taking medication to treat blood pressure, depression, pain, allergies, inflammation, seizures, or heart conditions, you’re one of the tens of millions of people at risk for medically induced erectile dysfunction. It’s just the nature of drug side effects. Yet erectile dysfunction is one of the least talked about side effects of prescription medication.
Figure. Progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction occurs early in atherosclerosis and prevents blood vessels from dilating properly. When the blood vessels that supply the penis are not able to dilate during sexual stimulation because of endothelial dysfunction, the penis cannot fill with blood, and the man develops erectile dysfunction. As atherosclerosis progresses, plaques build up in blood vessels and blood flow is slowed, further worsening erectile function. A heart attack occurs when an atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, a blood clot forms over the plaque, and blood flow to the heart muscle is completely blocked. Atherosclerotic risk factors (black arrows) worsen cardiovascular health; modification of these risk factors (red arrows) improves cardiovascular health.
It’s crucial that any underlying medical condition, such as angina or diabetes, is detected. So if you’re experiencing problems with ED, book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will assess and examine you to try to establish the cause of the problem, and may refer you for tests. Don’t take any medicine for ED without first discussing it with your doctor.
The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72
One study the authors reviewed measured these changes in middle-aged men with and without coronary artery disease. This study found that the peak heart rate during intercourse was lower than heart rates measured during the patients' normal daily activities. The study participants' peak oxygen consumption levels during intercourse were moderate -- comparable to their oxygen consumption levels during moderate activities such as walking on level ground at 3 to 4 miles per hour, climbing stairs slowly or doing general housework such as vacuuming.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Aside from the economic costs, ED can have severe psychological effects, resulting in poor self-image, decreased self-esteem, depression, and mental stress, and negative effects on personal relationships.2x2NIH Consensus Development Panel on Impotence. NIH Consensus Conference: impotence. JAMA. 1993; 270: 83–90
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References Other studies have proposed that the strain involved with intercourse in older patients is less associated with physical exertion and more closely related to sexual arousal.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
Organic nitrates are drugs that widen arteries by increasing their supply of nitric oxide; that's how they open the partially blocked coronary arteries in patients with angina. But because nitrates and ED pills both act on nitric oxide, the drugs don't mix; healthy volunteers given Viagra followed an hour later by nitroglycerin see their blood pressures drop by 25–51 mm Hg, a potentially dangerous amount. All experts agree that men who are taking nitrates cannot use ED pills; this includes all preparations of nitroglycerin (short-acting, under-the-tongue tablets or sprays), long-acting nitrates (isosorbide dinitrate or Isordil, Sorbitrate, and others, and isosorbide mononitrate, Imdur, ISMO, and others), nitroglycerin patches and pastes, and amyl nitrite or amyl nitrate (so-called poppers, which some men use for sexual stimulation).

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?


A number of nonprescription products claim to be herbal forms of Viagra. Some of these products contain unknown amounts of ingredients similar to those in prescription medications, which can cause dangerous side effects. Some actually contain the real drug, which should be given by prescription only. Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned many of these products, some potentially dangerous erectile dysfunction remedies remain on the market.
“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.”
This form of therapy has a response rate of well over 70%. The sympathetic nervous system normally maintains the penis in a flaccid or non-erect state. All of the vasoactive drugs, when injected into the corpora cavernosae, inhibit or override sympathetic inhibition to encourage relaxation of the smooth muscle trabeculae. The rush of blood engorges the penile corpora cavernosae sinusoidal spaces and creates an erection.
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
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.
These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.

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
Artery size also explains the onset of ED before occurrence of CAD. Coronary arteries are 3–4 mm in diameter, while the penile artery is 1–2 mm in diameter.17 Endothelial dysfunction and plaque burden in the small arteries may cause symptoms of ED before they affect blood flow in large arteries. Also, an asymptomatic lipid-rich plaque in the coronary arteries carries the risk of rupture that leads to acute coronary syndrome or death, so ED may be predictive of these serious events without warning cardiac symptoms.17
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
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.
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