Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References However, subsequent studies of older patients who had sexual intercourse in their home and were monitored with ambulatory ECG reported significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.
Three longitudinal studies have estimated incidence rates of ED in men with diabetes. Unfortunately, none of these studies specifically examined men with type 2 disease. In a cohort of 278 diabetic men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes potent at study entry, the proportion of patients reporting ED at 5-year follow-up was 28%.7 A follow-up analysis of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, a community-based cohort of men between 40 and 70 years of age, found that the incidence of ED in the diabetic men was 51/1,000 population-years.8 This figure was similar to the 68/1,000 person-years crude incidence rate of ED reported in a study of 1,010 men with diabetes.5 However, new studies need to be carried out in well-characterized populations of men with diabetes in order to better determine the incidence of ED and potential effects of interventions to reduce complications.
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
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
De Berardis et al.6 assessed general HRQOL in 1,460 men with type 2 diabetes in Italy. Within the cohort, 615 men reported that they never experienced ED, 346 stated that they occasionally had ED, and 449 stated that they frequently had ED. They then compared general HRQOL among these three groups. In the univariate analysis, they found that degree of ED negatively correlated with general HRQOL scores in all eight domains of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) health survey questionnaire. In the multivariate analysis, ED was not independently associated with physical function, bodily pain, or role limitations due to physical problem scores but was independently associated with general HRQOL outcomes in the domains of general health (P = 0.004), role limitations due to emotional problems (P = 0.001), vitality (P = 0.001), social functioning (P = 0.01), and overall mental health (P = 0.002). Another study examining the effect of ED on quality of life in hemodialysis patients, more than half of whom had diabetes, also noted an independent, negative effect of ED on the emotional domains of general HRQOL.39

 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. 
Control your blood sugar through your diet. Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will help you better control your blood sugar levels and lessen the amount of damage to your blood vessels and nerves. A proper diet geared at keeping your blood sugar levels in check can also improve your energy levels and mood, both of which can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. You may consider working with a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to help adjust your eating style.
The wide range of prevalence rates noted among the studies can be attributed to a number of factors. First, prevalence rates are affected by the sensitivity and specificity of methods used to assess ED.1 In addition, a number of these studies used medical record review to identify patients with ED, as opposed to anonymous patient reports. It has been shown in other disease states that patients tend to underreport ED when questioned directly by their providers.3 Therefore, the use of validated questionnaires that are either self-administered in an anonymous, neutral setting or administered by an objective third-party interviewer are preferred.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Cardiologists use METs of oxygen consumption to compare the energy expenditure of different forms of activity.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
Experimental hyperglycemia may also affect cavernosal smooth muscle cell contractile responses. In experimental diabetes, penile smooth muscle has augmented force responses to vaconstrictors, possibly mediated by changes in expression of protein kinase C and the RhoA-Rho kinase Ca2+-sensitization pathway.32 These changes may promote flaccidity and alter the relaxation responses to nitric oxide. End-stage penile dysfunction may occur as a result of diabetes, with progressive loss of normal cavernosal endothelium and smooth muscle cells from the corpus cavernosum.33 Replacement by fibrotic tissue may lead to complete erectile failure.34
Apart from their beneficial effect in erectile dysfunction and their safe profile in antihypertensive medication, PDE-5 inhibitors have even more advantages to demonstrate. Several lines of evidence has proven that patients receiving PDE-5 inhibitors are more likely to initiate an antihypertensive regime and more willing to add a new agent to their existing treatment, a fact that raises significantly patient’s adherence and as a matter of fact control of high blood pressure and quality of life[63,64]. Moreover, a handful of clinical data has demonstrated the considerable vasodilating and anti-proliferative properties of PDE-5 inhibitors in the pulmonary vasculature, establishing them as a first-line treatment in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension[65,66]. The same properties have been considered as potentially responsible for improving microcirculation in patients with secondary Raynaud phenomenon and ameliorating cardiopulmonary exercise performance in patients with heart failure[67,68]. In addition, the therapeutic implementation of PDE-5 inhibitors has expanded in the field of benign prostate hyperplasia-lower urinary tract symptoms (BPH-LUTS). The common pathophysiologic substrate between erectile dysfunction and BPH-LUTS has rendered PDE-5 inhibitors an effective treatment which significantly improves measures of both conditions while at the same time exhibits high efficacy and safety. The beneficial effect is much more pronounced when taking into consideration the fact that a-blockers, the mainstay of therapy for benign prostate hyperplasia frequently provoke sexual side effects, erectile dysfunction included[69].
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.
As a primary care doctor, my most important job is to tailor treatment for my patients while still making decisions based on the medical literature. So when patients tell me their treatment is causing undesired side effects—like ED—I work with them to create a plan to treat the condition while also finding a way to relieve those side effects. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with medically induced ED.

This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.


Sexual intercourse is an infrequent cause of myocardial infarction. In a study of 1774 patients after myocardial infarction, only 1.5% of these events occurred within 2 hours of sexual intercourse, and sexual activity was considered a direct contributing factor in 0.9%.8x8Muller, 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

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.
The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.
The EDDM patient has a variety of firstline options. The risk factors for vascular disease are the risk factors for ED. First-line therapy begins with attempts to minimize or eliminate these factors. These include smoking cessation, regular exercise, tighter glycemic control by attention to dietary restrictions, addition of statin drugs to correct dyslipidemia, and moderation of alcohol ingestion. Although there is very limited evidence that these modifications will dramatically reverse ED, they certainly will sponsor improved general health.4
Penile prosthesis is a viable option for men who cannot use sildenafil and who find the injections or vacuum erection therapy distasteful. A non-adjustable semi-rigid prosthesis is easy to insert and has no postoperative mechanical problems. The inflatable prosthesis has a pump that is put in the testicular sac for on-demand inflation and deflation. Future versions will have a remote control device similar to a garage-door opener.
Table 3Metabolic Equivalent (MET) Values for Various Physical Activities56x56Wallis, RM, Corbin, JD, Francis, SH, and Ellis, P. Tissue distribution of phosphodiesterase families and the effects of sildenafil on tissue cyclic nucleotides, platelet function, and the contractile responses of trabeculae carneae and aortic rings in vitro. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 3C–12C
Yohimbine: The main component of an African tree bark, yohimbine is probably one of the most problematic of all natural remedies for ED. Some research suggests that yohimbine can improve a type of sexual dysfunction that is linked with a drug used to treat depression. However, studies have linked yohimbine to a number of side effects, which can include anxiety, increased blood pressure, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. Like all natural remedies, yohimbine should only be used after advice and under supervision from a doctor.
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Guidelines recommend that phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors are the first-line drug for the treatment of ED (Table 1). Sildenafil citrate was the first oral drug approved for ED in the US.59 The newer PDE5 inhibitors include vardenafil, tadalafil and avanafil. The inhibition of PDE5 enhances cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP)-NO-mediated vasodilatation by preventing PDE5 catabolism of cGMP and so delaying detumescence. PDE5 inhibitors increase the number and duration of erections, as well as the percentage of successful sexual intercourse.60
In an open-label study, 8 patients monitored with a Swan-Ganz catheter were given a total of 40 mg of sildenafil in 4 intravenous transfusions (the equivalent of 1 to 3 times the plasma concentration after an oral dose of 100 mg).62x62Jackson, G, Benjamin, N, Jackson, N, and Allen, MJ. Effects of sildenafil citrate on human hemodynamics. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 13C–20C
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (171) | Google ScholarSee all References Incidence increased notably with age in this patient cohort: only 1.1% of diabetic men aged 21 to 30 years had ED compared with 47.1% of all diabetic patients older than 43 years. Diabetic patients often have other cardiovascular risk factors that may play a role in the development of ED. However, in an analysis of the PBI in 441 patients with ED and various cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use), diabetes was the only risk factor that was significantly and independently associated with a decrease in the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184

While additional investigation is usually necessary, the medical and sexual history is essential and frequently the most revealing aspect of the ED assessment process. Questionnaires are an integral part of the history. The International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), a 15-item, self-evaluation questionnaire is a validated instrument for assessing erectile function, orgasmic function, desire and satisfaction after sexual relations.8 An abridged version of the IIEF is a 5-item questionnaire the Sexual Health Inventory for Men (SHIM) or IIEF-5 (Table 2). Responses to the five questions range from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Questions 2 to 4 may be graded 0 (if there is no sexual activity, or no sexual intercourse attempt) and the final score ranges from 1 to 25 points; a descending score indicates worsening of erectile function, with values ≤21 being diagnostic of ED.8 Importantly, validated questionnaires correlate with the extend of CAD9 and improve the predictive value of ED for total cardiovascular events compared with a single-question ED diagnosis.5 It cannot be overemphasized that the SHIM can be effectively used not only by andrologists and urologists but by a wide array of medical specialists, such as cardiologists, diabetologists, primary care physicians, etc.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References The risk after sexual activity in these patients is unknown, although vasodilators should be avoided because they may increase the intraventricular gradient.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
Most studies into the effect of beta-blockers on ED point to negative effects of first- and second-generation beta-blockers, while beta-blockers with vasodilating effects can improve erectile function. Alpha-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors seem to have a neutral effect on erectile function. Multiple previous studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect of angiotensin receptor blockers on erectile function and they should probably be the favoured antihypertensive agents in patients with ED.29
The art of acupuncture has become the new treatment for everything from back pain, depression, and even ED. Impotence could be more of a state of mind, and acupuncture may help. Through this alternative therapy, fine needles are placed in various parts of the body to relieve pain or stress. Although there are many mixed studies for acupuncture and ED, many tend to confirm positive results. A 1999 study found acupuncture improved the quality of erection and even restored sexual activity in 39 percent of participants.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Although some case studies have reported a relationship between calcium channel blockers and ED, most studies suggest that this effect is minimal and that any relationship is likely secondary to a decrease in blood pressure with consequent reflex sympathetic activation.42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
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
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
It is recommended that testosterone be measured in patients with ED because low levels are a reliable measure of hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is not only a treatable cause of ED, but can also lead to reduced or lack of response to PDE5 inhibitors.73 Testosterone deficiency is also associated with increased cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.74 Levels >350 ng/dl do not usually require replacement, but in patients with testosterone <230 ng/dl, replacement can usually be beneficial.57 In patients with congestive heart failure, testosterone replacement can lead to fluid retention, so caution is advised. In these patients, the aim should be to keep testosterone levels in the middle range, i.e. 350–600 ng/dl.57
With early detection, doctors can suggest preventive measures like statins, blood pressure meds, revamping eating habits and getting more exercise. Try these two exercises that can cut your risk of heart disease in half. The study researchers told Science Daily, “Our study supports a more aggressive CVD risk assessment and management for persons with erectile dysfunction, including young men who may otherwise be categorized as low-risk due to their young ages.” Check out the sexual health conditions affecting millennial men.
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."

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

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Almost every class of antihyper-tensive medication has been implicated in causing ED; however, most of these studies, published as case reports or patient surveys, have been relatively subjective and uncontrolled.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
Usually patients will try less invasive alternatives to treat impotence before opting for surgery. These alternatives may include supplements, herbs, lifestyle changes and even medications. In cases where other treatments do not work to resolve ED, surgery might be a last-resort option. Surgery involves implanting a penile prosthesis. This is a saline-filled silicone device or a malleable device. Although the likelihood of serious side effects is considered to be low, certain risks are associated with surgery to correct erectile dysfunction. These side effects may include: anesthetic risk, device infection, and device malfunction or mechanical failure. Some studies have found that five years following surgery around 10–20 percent of men experience device malfunction and failure. Infection rates are low. Around one percent of men who opt for this type of surgery get an infection.
Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.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
Olsson et al. conducted a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group, and flexible dose study in 224 men with ED and one CVD, including IHD (20 %) and hypertension (80 %). This study reported that the sildenafil-treated group showed 71 % improvement in ED compared with the placebo-controlled group (24 %).64 Furthermore, no treatment-related cardiovascular adverse events were reported.65 Conti et al. showed in an early study that sildenafil is an effective treatment for ED in patients with IHD; the majority of patients reported improvement in penile erection with it.66 Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study of patients with ED and stable CAD showed statistically significant improvement with sildenafil versus placebo in both the frequency of penetration and frequency of maintained erections after penetration.67
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (171) | Google ScholarSee all References Incidence increased notably with age in this patient cohort: only 1.1% of diabetic men aged 21 to 30 years had ED compared with 47.1% of all diabetic patients older than 43 years. Diabetic patients often have other cardiovascular risk factors that may play a role in the development of ED. However, in an analysis of the PBI in 441 patients with ED and various cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use), diabetes was the only risk factor that was significantly and independently associated with a decrease in the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
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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