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.
Another study showed a forty percent increase of blood flow to the heart within one year of starting a dietary program designed similar to the one described in my book, The End of Heart Disease. Of pertinent note is that, in the same study, the patients following a high-protein Atkins’ diet decreased blood flow to the heart by forty percent in one year.8 These dangerous high-protein diets are a certain path to erectile impotence and a premature cardiac death.
In most men, ED is recognised as sharing vascular aetiology with IHD.17 ED and IHD share common risk factors, such as hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, obesity, lack of physical exercise, cigarette smoking, poor diet, excess alcohol consumption and psychological stress, including depression.30 Endothelial dysfunction has been implicated as a common mechanism between CAD and ED and it has an important role in the development of atherosclerosis.31
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Regular exercise can significantly decrease the patient's risk of having a myocardial infarction during sexual intercourse by increasing the patient's functional reserve, decreasing the heart rate, and increasing the stroke volume.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
But closer questioning often revealed a very different story—men would admit that struggles to achieve an erection usually preceded a heart attack or other cardiac event by one, two, or three years. Back then, the pattern of erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease was so widespread, that most in the medical profession attributed it to simple “aging,” as common as wrinkles and constipation.

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.


Alprostadil self-injection. With this method, you use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (Caverject Impulse, Edex) into the base or side of your penis. In some cases, medications generally used for other conditions are used for penile injections on their own or in combination. Examples include papaverine, alprostadil and phentolamine. Often these combination medications are known as bimix (if two medications are included) or trimix (if three are included).

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile dysfunction secondary to cardiovascular disease often responds well to the standard ED treatments developed over the past few decades. Penile prosthesis implantation was developed in the 1970s, followed by intracavernosal injections of vasoactive agents, including papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1, introduced in the 1980s.11x11Nehra, A. Intracavernosal therapy: when oral agents fail. Curr Urol Rep. 2001; 2: 468–472
The vacuum device is approved by USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of ED since 1982. Vacuum therapy (VT) works by creating a negative pressure environment around the penis through the use of a cylindrical housing attached to a pump mechanism, which can be manually-operated or battery-operated. Vacuum draws mixed arterial and venous blood into the corporal bodies and distends the corporal sinusoids to create an erected penis. If a pre-loaded constriction band is applied over the base of the penis to prevent outflow of blood and maintain tumescence for intercourse, it is considered a vacuum constriction device (VCD). It is recommended that the constriction band be removed within 30 mins to return the penis to its flaccid state, as prolonged application of the constriction band can compromise both arterial and venous blood flow (7). Some minor side effects associated with VCD are penile discomfort, coldness, numbness, bruising and pain on ejaculation. Major side effects such as penile skin necrosis, gangrene, urethral injury and Peyronie’s disease are very rare (8).
After getting a diagnosis of ED, most patients can begin treatment right away, but treatment may be delayed for some patients until the health of the heart is more fully assessed or improved. The most common treatment for ED is a pill (phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor; PDE5-I): Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or Levitra (vardenafil). Each of these pills improves erections when taken before sexual activity; alternatively, a low dose of Cialis can be taken once a day. These medicines work by allowing the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis to dilate better during sexual stimulation. The PDE5-Is decrease blood pressure a little bit, but they are safe with most other medications and with other blood pressure pills. The PDE5-Is are not safe with nitrate medications like nitroglycerin, Nitrostat, Nitro Paste, Imdur, isosorbide mononitrate, and Isordil. Mixing a PDE5-I with a nitrate medication could result in severely low blood pressure and even death. Inform all medical professionals (including the ambulance or emergency department) about your most recent ED pill ingestion so that nitrates can be avoided. If you have high blood pressure or benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate) and take medicines called α-blockers, your doctor may need to start you on the lowest dose of the PDE5-I.
The same device is considered a vacuum erectile device (VED), when it is used to increase inflow of the blood to the penis without a constriction band. Regular use of VED in post-prostatectomy patient increases penile oxygenation and is accepted as a valid option in penile rehabilitation. Recent study reported transient increase in oxygenation to the glans penis and corporal bodies were detected by oximetry after VED was applied, providing proof for possible role for VED to counter the early penile hypoxia, cavernosal fibrosis and long-term ED after radical prostatectomy (9).
Keep your stress level down. Stress can interfere with sexual arousal and your ability to get an erection. Exercise, meditation, and setting aside time to do the things that you enjoy can help to keep your stress levels down and lessen your risk of ED. If you’re developing symptoms of anxiety or depression, consult your doctor. They may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help you work through anything that is causing you stress.

Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.
In many of these cases, a discussion between the physician, the man with erectile dysfunction, and possibly his partner can help to resolve the issues leading to treatment failure. For men who experience severe side effects, can’t take the drugs for other reasons (such as taking medicines such as nitroglycerin), or don’t respond in spite of further education on the correct use of the drugs, there are other treatment options that can help most men remain sexually active.
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