Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Erections result from relaxation of the corpora cavernosa, which is mediated either by increasing intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) or cyclic adenosine monophosphate or by inhibition of their degradation. Increased parasympathetic tone results in a decrease in norepinephrine release and an increase in the release of acetylcholine; subsequently, NO synthase activity increases, which releases NO from both endothelial cells and nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurons.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
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.
Montorsi F,  Briganti A,  Salonia A,  Rigatti P,  Margonato A,  Macchi A,  Galli S,  Ravagnani PM,  Montorsi P. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease, Eur Urol , 2003, vol. 44 (pg. 360-364)https://doi.org/10.1016/S0302-2838(03)00305-1

“The presence of erectile dysfunction portends a higher risk of future cardiovascular events, particularly in intermediate-risk men, and may serve as an opportunity for intensification of cardiovascular risk prevention strategies,” wrote Boston University heart specialists Naomi Hamburg, MD and Matt Kluge, MD, in an accompanying editorial. “The findings add to the growing evidence supporting additional trials to determine the clinical impact of erectile dysfunction screening and the appropriate cardiovascular directed evaluation and treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.”
With atherosclerosis, the blood vessels are not able to dilate properly, which is called endothelial dysfunction (see the Figure). Cholesterol builds up in the blood vessel walls and forms plaques, which make the vessels narrow and slow down blood flow. When a plaque becomes very advanced, it can completely stop blood from passing through, which is what happens in a heart attack. Atherosclerosis affects not only the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries), but also blood vessels throughout the entire body. Atherosclerosis causes angina (chest pain that is often exertional), heart attacks, strokes, claudication (pain in the legs with walking), and ED. Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years. This warning sign can be a good thing if it alerts you and your doctor that you have atherosclerosis, because then you can take steps to treat the atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack or stroke.

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.

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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Originally evaluated as a mild preload reducer and antianginal agent in its early phases of development, sildenafil's effect on male and female genitalia became quickly apparent.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
When it comes to scientific development, in Western medicine, an analytic approach is often used to identify and resolve medical challenges. A hypothesis is first derived through general observations of a phenomenon. A research plan is then carefully designed and data collected. Once sufficient data is collected, critical statistical evaluations are done and conclusions are drawn (4). Every aspects of a disease entity are studied from macroscopic to microscopic views, down to the cellular and molecular levels. The deep understanding of the role of cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type 5 enzymes in ED and the use of phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors in treatment of ED exemplifies the success of this approach.
In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.

The 12-week study of 164 men, all with hypertension, was divided into 2 groups of 82, one group with sexual dysfunction, the other group reported normal sexual functioning. Both groups took losartan in dosages of 50 to 100 milligrams daily for the 12 weeks of the study. In the group of men with sexual dysfunction, 88 percent reported improvement in at least one area of sexual function and 73.7% reported an improved quality of life.

Gutiérrez-González, Enrique; Castelló, Adela; Fernández-Navarro, Pablo; Castaño-Vinyals, Gemma; Llorca, Javier; Salas-Trejo, Dolores; Salcedo-Bellido, Inmaculada; Aragonés, Nuria; Fernández-Tardón, Guillermo; Alguacil, Juan; Gracia-Lavedan, Esther; García-Esquinas, Esther; Gómez-Acebo, Inés; Amiano, Pilar; Romaguera, Dora; Kogevinas, Manolis; Pollán, Marina; Pérez-Gómez, Beatriz. “Dietary Zinc and Risk of Prostate Cancer in Spain: MCC-Spain Study.” Nutrients. Jan 2019, 11(1).
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (259) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil should be used with caution in patients with liver dysfunction or renal impairment, as well as in patients taking any medications that inhibit the P-450 pathway such as cimetidine or erythromycin.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
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
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
There are other treatment options for erectile dysfunction (ED). Alprostadil is a medication that improves blood flow to the penis and improves erections. It can be given either by injection (Caverject and other brands) at the base of the penis or by putting an alprostadil gel (brand name MUSE) directly into the urethra, using a thin tube and a little lubricant so it slides in easily. The medicine is absorbed from the lining of the urethra into the surrounding tissues. The shot is less appealing to most people, of course, but more effective.
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.
A disruption anywhere along the complex chain of events will impair the capacity to have an erection. Any man who has experienced the frustration of male impotence knows that the consequences extend beyond physical dissatisfaction to anxiety, tension, and embarrassment. A common reason for failure of the erectile apparatus is disruption of the path leading to nitric oxide production and blood flow control.
Chlamydia and erectile dysfunction: What's the link? Some people who have chlamydia also experience erectile dysfunction (ED), which involves problems getting or maintaining an erection. Chlamydia can infect the prostate gland, leading to prostatitis, pain, and ED. In this article, learn more about the link between this common infection and ED, and treatments for both. Read now
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
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
The aetiology of predominantly psychogenic ED is multifactorial, and components may include psychiatric disorders (especially depression), interpersonal problems with the sexual partner or misconceptions about normal sexual activity. Identifying and getting treatment for those patients with psychogenic causes of ED such as depression that may also increase CVD risk is also important.
Owing to its delicate nature, discussion about the sexual life of the patient is effective not on a circumstantial visit to the doctor, but on the basis of confidence between the patient and the physician, as is usually the case with the cardiologist. Thus, the cardiologist is given a unique opportunity to identify ED and thus ‘recharacterize’ the risk of the patient. In addition, since normal sexual activity is important to most men with CVD, irrespective of age, the cardiologist can clarify issues that relate to such activity after a cardiac event or to a specific cardiac condition (e.g. heart failure). Often, such issues are hampered by misconceptions from the side of the patient. Therefore, while less than half of the patients receive information about resuming sexual activity after a cardiac event, proper counselling increases their likelihood to resume their previous level of sexual activity by 50%.50 Furthermore, the cardiologist can increase adherence to the medication by clarifying that it is uncommonly the true cause of ED. Finally, proper counselling is required to ensure safety of concomitant PDE5 inhibitors medication, the use of which has the additional advantage to increase compliance to CVD mediation, especially in hypertension. It should be noted that while patients are often reluctant to bring up the issue of sexual health, they are relieved and respond positively when their cardiologist has done so. It should also be emphasized that, frequently, sexual counselling is more effective when done together with their partner.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Hemodynamic stress also may cause rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque resulting in angina, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
There’s one more thing to remember: A visit to a physician can be helpful even if a man doesn’t want to go near Viagra or try one of the alternatives. In some cases, a treatable medical condition such as low testosterone or depression could explain a case of ED. “Sexual health should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an essential component to wellness,” said urologist Ryan P. Terlecki, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.

This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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