Luckily, awareness of ED as a significant and common complication of diabetes has increased in recent years, mainly because of increasing knowledge of male sexual function and the rapidly expanding armamentarium of novel treatments being developed for impotence. Studies of ED suggest that its prevalence in men with diabetes ranges from 35–75% versus 26% in general population. The onset of ED also occurs 10–15 years earlier in men with diabetes than it does in sex-matched counterparts without diabetes.

Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Attainment and maintenance of a firm erection requires good arterial inflow of blood and efficient trapping of venous outflow. Therefore, disease processes that affect the function of the arterial and venous systems would be expected to negatively affect erectile function. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in the male population and is especially evident with increasing age. The interplay of cardiovascular health and sexual function includes the risk of cardiac events precipitated by the physical exertion of sexual activity and by some medications, such as sildenafil, on the cardiovascular system. An estimated 500,000 patients survive a myocardial infarction each year in the United States, and an estimated 11 million patients have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients.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

DHEA is a hormone made by the human body. It’s a building block for testosterone. According to a study published in Urology, this supplement may be able to help men whose ED is related to having low testosterone. However, there’s no definitive evidence of this benefit. It’s clear that DHEA can cause various side effects, including liver damage and acne. Long-term use of DHEA can also cause hormonal imbalances.
Most importantly, herbal supplements are not well regulated in the United States.  Studies have shown that 40-50% of herbal supplements do not even contain the supposed main ingredient, and many contain substances that are not listed which may have dangerous side effects2.  Another study found that over two thirds of the products tested had substituted other plant species for the plants listed on the label, and a third of products also contained other fillers or contaminants3.  A study by the New York State Attorney General of herbal products sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart found that four out of every five products didn’t contain the ingredient they claimed!  Fourteen US states and territories have petitioned Congress to regulate the herbal supplements industry.
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.
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.
Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33
The impact of third-generation cardioselective beta-blockers such as carvedilol and nebivolol has also been investigated. Fogari et al. investigated the effect of carvedilol on erectile function in a double-blind crossover study involving 160 men newly diagnosed with hypertension and found chronic worsening of sexual function in those treated with carvedilol compared with valsartan and placebo.24
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Other candidate mechanisms linking ED and cigarette smoking include hypercoagulability and increased platelet aggregation, increased release of free fatty acids and catecholamines, changes in NO synthetic pathways, and a possible direct toxic effect on vascular endothelium.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References They evaluated 40 patients with coronary artery disease who underwent coronary artery catheterization and whose penile brachial index (PBI) was measured by Doppler ultrasonography. Although a positive correlation was noted between the PBI and the severity of coronary artery obstruction, the relationship was not strong. Also, the degree of PBI abnormality did not effectively stratify the patients according to the severity of their coronary artery blockage. This study concluded that the PBI used alone would not be an effective predictor of ischemic heart disease.
Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.

Intraurethral alprostadil (Muse) provides a less invasive alternative to intrapenile injection. It is a pellet that is inserted 5–10 min before intercourse, and its effects last for 1 h. The response rate is ∼50–60%. It can be used twice daily but is not recommended for use with pregnant partners. Complications of priapism and penile fibrosis are less common than after alprostadil given by penile injection. The cost is ∼$18–24 per treatment.

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.

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the effects of untreated erectile dysfunction, or conversely, the effect of having an active sex life without taking erectile dysfunction drugs. The researchers also were unable to account for socioeconomic status; as a next step, they are planning a larger study that will include more health records and complete information on marital status, educational level and disposable income. They are also pursuing a separate analysis of outcomes from erectile dysfunction drugs in men with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (72) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that the mean PSV was a better predictor of the presence of cardiovascular disease than stratification by standard cardiac risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, and smoking. The researchers recommended that persons with no history of prior perineal trauma and with a PSV lower than 35 mL/s should undergo exercise testing before receiving treatment of ED because these patients had a 42% risk of having ischemic heart disease. However, other investigators questioned the utility of using penile arterial flow to predict the presence of ischemic heart disease.18x18Chiu, AW, Chen, KK, Chen, MT, Chang, LS, and Chang, MS. Penile brachial index in impotent patients with coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 1991; 19: 213–216
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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