Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is when a man has difficulty getting or maintaining a strong enough erection for sexual intercourse or other sexual activity. It can be caused by stress, anxiety or excessive alcohol consumption. But it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), diabetes or high blood pressure. Some medications can cause erectile dysfunction, for example beta-blockers and diuretics (commonly used to treat a variety of heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure and heart failure).
“If a diabetic patient has erectile dysfunction, it’s not enough to provide Viagra [sildenafil] or Cialis [tadalafil] and then send him on his merry way,” J. Francois Eid, MD, a New York City urologist, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It’s important to let individuals know the drug has not cured the erectile dysfunction. If patients don’t take care of the diabetes, the erectile dysfunction progresses.”
Levine GN,  Steinke EE,  Bakaeen FG,  Bozkurt B,  Cheitlin MD,  Conti JB,  Foster E,  Jaarsma T,  Kloner RA,  Lange RA,  Lindau ST,  Maron BJ,  Moser DK,  Ohman EM,  Seftel AD,  Stewart WJ. Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association, Circulation , 2012, vol. 125 (pg. 1058-1072)https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0b013e3182447787
The links between hypertension and ED are increasingly recognized and the 2009 re-appraisal of European guidelines includes relevant statements.35,47 Erectile dysfunction is almost twice as frequent in hypertensive as in normotensive individuals and appears to be of higher severity. The relative risk of developing ED in hypertensive patients compared with normotensive individuals ranges from 1.3 to 6.9. Regarding pathophysiology, hypertension appears to cause ED per se, through a multitude of mechanisms that include prolonged exposure to elevated levels of systemic blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction, and circulation of vasoactive substance (with a pivotal role of angiotensin II) that lead to structural and functional alterations in the penile arteries. The largely unfounded (see earlier paragraph) notoriety of antihypertensive treatment for causing ED is one of the most predominant causes for non-adherence and discontinuation of antihypertensive therapy, and therefore, patients should be properly informed by physicians. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are effective in hypertensive patients with ED and they can safely be co-administered with antihypertensive medication.39 Specifically for alpha-blockers, low starting doses of PDE5 inhibitors are preferred in patients already on alpha-blocker treatment, and likewise, low starting doses of alpha-blockers are encouraged in patients taking PDE5 inhibitors. Of clinical significance is that hypertensive men with ED are more likely to comply with their antihypertensive medication when under PDE5 inhibitors.
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.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References The risk of ED was 1.83 times higher in men with a total cholesterol level greater than 240 mg/dL as opposed to less than 180 mg/dL. Also, an HDL cholesterol level greater than 60 mg/dL was found to be protective against the development of ED. In the MMAS, HDL cholesterol levels were noted to have an inverse relationship with the presence of ED.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

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (164) | Google ScholarSee all References Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown vardenafil to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to a wide range of other etiologies as well.71x71Hellstrom, WJ, Gittelman, M, Karlin, G..., and Vardenafil Study Group. Sustained efficacy and tolerability of vardenafil, a highly potent selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in men with erectile dysfunction: results of a randomized, double-blind, 26-week placebo-controlled pivotal trial. Urology. 2003; 61: 8–14
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (395) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is primarily responsible for the breakdown of cGMP in cavernosal tissues. The inhibition of PDE-5 by sildenafil therefore causes continued activation of the NO-cGMP pathway in the cavernosal tissue, thereby improving erectile function.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
In subsequent clinical studies, a surprisingly high percentage of EDDM patients–10% to 20%–claimed that the placebo "improved my erections," thus indicating a psychological basis for their ED. In the latter half of the 1980s, objective means were developed that could help determine if a EDDM patient had organic or psychogenic ED. The absence of rigid sleep erections confirmed by penile monitors was one criterion for organic ED. The failure of vasoactive agents (papaverine, Trimix, or prostaglandin E-1 [PGE-1]) injected into the corpora cavernosa to induce penile rigidity was another criterion for organic disease. Intracavernosal maintenance flow rates during pharmacocavernosometry and maximum cavernosal arterial flow during penile Doppler ultrasonography were additional determinants.
In subsequent clinical studies, a surprisingly high percentage of EDDM patients–10% to 20%–claimed that the placebo "improved my erections," thus indicating a psychological basis for their ED. In the latter half of the 1980s, objective means were developed that could help determine if a EDDM patient had organic or psychogenic ED. The absence of rigid sleep erections confirmed by penile monitors was one criterion for organic ED. The failure of vasoactive agents (papaverine, Trimix, or prostaglandin E-1 [PGE-1]) injected into the corpora cavernosa to induce penile rigidity was another criterion for organic disease. Intracavernosal maintenance flow rates during pharmacocavernosometry and maximum cavernosal arterial flow during penile Doppler ultrasonography were additional determinants.
For oral erectile dysfunction medicines to work as desired, they must be used properly in the first place. This means taking the medicine 30–45 minutes before engaging in sexual intimacy; taking the drug on an empty stomach or at least avoiding a heavy or high-fat meal before taking the drug (this is especially important when using sildenafil); and engaging in adequate genital stimulation before attempting intercourse. Drinking small amounts of alcohol (one to two drinks) should not compromise the effectiveness of erectile dysfunction medicines, but larger amounts of alcohol can diminish a man’s ability to have an erection.
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