Penile erection is largely a vascular process, and the penile endothelium and smooth muscle tissue are very sensitive to functional and structural changes. Vasculogenic ED results from an impairment of endothelial dependent or independent smooth muscle relaxation (functional vascular ED, initial stages), occlusion of the cavernosal arteries by atherosclerosis (structural vascular ED, late stages), or a combination of these.3 Current data support a complex interplay between endothelial dysfunction, subclinical inflammation, and androgen deficiency (Figure 1). The relationship between ED and CAD at the clinical level is supported by this common pathophysiological basis. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis explains why patients with CAD frequently report ED before CAD detection.10 According to this hypothesis, for a given atherosclerotic burden, the smaller penile arteries suffer obstruction earlier than the larger coronary arteries (Figure 2). The same concept holds also true in the case of non-obstructing atherosclerosis: since the smaller penile artery have a greater endothelial surface and erection requires a large degree of vasodilation to occur when compared with arteries in other organs, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction will be symptomatic in these smaller vessels but subclinical in the larger ones (i.e. coronaries). In the same context, accelerated arterial ageing (as indicated by increased arterial stiffening that also affects large arteries of ED patients) may be a common background.11,12 Erectile dysfunction is associated with an incremental inflammatory and endothelial-pro-thrombotic activation.13 Interestingly, this activation is equal to that found in CAD patients with no ED, while when these two conditions are combined the burden is additive. Androgen deficiency may be also implicated in the common pathogenetic pathways of ED and CVD; however, this warrants further substantiation.2
Low testosterone represents another link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. A man’s testosterone levels gradually diminish beginning at age 30. By the time he reaches his 70s, testosterone levels may have dropped to a tenth of youthful levels. Diminishing testosterone levels contribute to loss of muscle, increased body fat, and reduced libido. Fatigue is common, as is depression. Low testosterone levels can also result in reduced concentration, irritability, passivity, loss of interest in activities, and even hypochondria.

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Interestingly, this study found no association between erectile function and the number of years or packs per day of cigarette use. In contrast, a study of 314 current smokers with ED found that the number of cigarettes smoked inversely correlated with penile rigidity as measured by nocturnal penile tumescence.27x27Hirshkowitz, M, Karacan, I, Howell, JW, Arcasoy, MO, and Williams, RL. Nocturnal penile tumescence in cigarette smokers with erectile dysfunction. Urology. 1992; 39: 101–107
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with prior cardiac events should be encouraged to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation programs before restarting sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
27. Haahr MK, Jensen CH, Toyserkani NM, et al. Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine 2016;5:204-10. 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.01.024 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef]
The bad news: Men with diabetes are three times more likely to report having problems with sex than non-diabetic men. The most common sexual problem is Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, sometimes called impotence. Even worse, because ED is such a private issue, many men feel embarrassed to discuss the problem with their doctor, or even their partner, so the problem is never addressed.
Table 1 offers elements for distinction between organic and psychogenic disease.7 Of note is that in cases of organic origin, a psychogenic component may co-exist. The most common organic aetiology of ED is vasculogenic (see below ‘ED and CAD: common pathophysiology’).2,3 Co-existence of vascular disease, advancing age, and the presence of CVD risk factors and metabolic disorders increase the likelihood that ED is of vasculogenic aetiology.
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
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.
We need to keep in mind that angioplasty and bypass surgery have some significant adverse outcomes, including heart attacks, stroke and death. These invasive procedures only attempt to treat a small segment of the diseased heart, usually with only a temporary benefit. The patients treated with angioplasty and bypass will continue to experience progressive disability and most often die a premature death as a result of their heart disease.
Another risk factor is that men with type 2 diabetes may produce less than normal amounts of testosterone, a condition called hypogonadism. A 2007 study found that one-third of men with type 2 diabetes had low testosterone levels. Those men were also more likely to have ED, though the link may have to do with weight, not diabetes per se. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for hypogonadism.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References Most adverse effects are mild and are related primarily to vasodilation (headache, flushing, nasal congestion), gastrointestinal disturbances (dyspepsia), or retinal effects such as vision changes.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Experts feel that treating erectile dysfunction on your own, without consulting a doctor, is unsafe. "If you have ED, the first thing you need is a diagnosis," says impotence expert Steven Lamm, MD, a New York City internist and the author of The Hardness Factor (Harper Collins) and other books on male sexual health. He says men with severe erectile dysfunction probably need one of the prescription ED drugs, which include Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) as well as Viagra. But, he says, mild ED -- including the feeling that "you're not as hard as you could be" -- often responds to natural remedies.

Erectile dysfunction is an accurate predictor of heart attacks and strokes in the future. Psychogenic components play a role in erectile dysfunction, but the most common and primary cause in most men is organic vascular insufficiency, meaning not enough blood gets to the penis. Erectile dysfunction usually occurs one to five years before a male manifests overt signs of cardiovascular disease. The first sign may be death.


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References No data suggested adverse interactions between sildenafil and other drugs commonly used in the treatment of coronary artery disease, such as aspirin, heparin, or narcotics.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

The initial event for normal erectile function is sexual stimulation. Subsequent to processing in the central nervous system neural impulses are conveyed along the spinal cord, exiting through the pelvic parasympathetic preganglionic nerves. These pelvic nerves form the pelvic plexus and send their message through first messenger, acetyl choline, to the cavernosal nerves. The cavernosal nerves enter erectile bodies (corpora cavernosa) (Figure 1). Here, their nerve endings release a second messenger, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide activates the enzyme guanylyl cyclase, which lyses guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to produce a third messenger, the intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Ultimately, the result is a decrease of intracellular calcium and an opening of potassium channels with the resultant relaxation of vascular smooth muscle in the arteries, aterioles, and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa. The sinusoids open and rapidly fill with blood. Finally, the distended sinusoids compress their drainage pathways (venules) against the fibroelastic covering of the cavernosal bodies (tunica albuginea) and trap the blood in cavernosal bodies. The combination of an increased inflow of blood into the penis and coincident markedly diminished outflow results in rapidly increasing intracavernosal pressure that ultimately approximates systolic pressure. At this pressure the penis has sufficient axial rigidity to permit vaginal penetration.

Despite physician’s inexperience and patient’s reluctance to disclose sexual dysfunction problems, attempts to estimate the magnitude of this clinical condition have predicted that over 150 million men worldwide experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. Several studies have demonstrated a wide range regarding the prevalence of erectile dysfunction, which is even higher in patients with essential hypertension where the relative risk is approximately two times higher than in normotensive individuals[6-11]. The etiology can be found in the structural and functional abnormalities of the penile arteries induced by high blood pressure. Smooth muscle hypertrophy, stenotic lesions due to atherosclerosis and impaired blood flow are among the prominent structural alterations whereas endothelial dysfunction and the defective nitric oxide-induced vasodilatory mechanism belong to the main functional abnormalities induced by increased blood pressure[12,13]. As a matter of fact, sexual dysfunction is encountered more frequently that it is indeed believed underlining the need for a more proper and concrete assessment.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References When used in combination with NO-donor medications such as nitroglycerin, the modest blood pressure effects of sildenafil are potentiated, resulting in a significant decrease in systolic (21-55 mm Hg) and diastolic (up to 26 mm Hg) blood pressure levels, as well as vasodilatory symptoms such as headache, light-headedness, and nausea.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Ginseng is the most common ingredient among top-selling supplements for men’s sexual health (36). The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen. Ren means “person” and shen means “plant root”. This plant has been named in this manner as its roots resemble the lower limbs of a human, Traditionally, ginseng has been used to restore and enhance the normal well-being of the body. The effects are due to ginseng’s reactions with the central nervous system, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular system. The principal active compounds are triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Animal studies have suggested that specific ginsenosides may be responsible for ginseng-mediated effects on copulatory behavior (37). Ginsenoside induces smooth muscle relaxation by hyperpolarizing the smooth muscle membrane via activation of large-conductance KCa channels (38).

On any matter relating to your health or well-being, please check with an appropriate health professional. No statement herein is to be construed as a diagnosis, treatment, preventative, or cure for any disease, disorder or abnormal physical state. The statements herein have not been evaluated by the Foods and Drugs Administration or Health Canada. Dr. Marchione and the doctors on the Bel Marra Health Editorial Team are compensated by Bel Marra Health for their work in creating content, consulting along with formulating and endorsing products.

More than 11 million people in the United States have cardiovascular disease, and each year, about 500,000 survive a myocardial infarction. These patients often seek counseling on their relative risk of resuming sexual activity. In the past, it was often assumed that if a patient could climb 2 flights of stairs without symptoms, it was safe for the patient to engage in sexual activity.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
ED is a common complication of diabetes and people with diabetes are also prone to developing cardiovascular complications.48 The risk of ED is relatively high in patients with known CVD. This was supported by a study of men with known CVD, in which ED was substantially predictive of all-cause mortality and the composite of CVD death, admission for heart failure, MI and stroke.17 Macroangiopathy, microangiopathy and endothelial dysfunction are among the mechanisms by which diabetes causes ED.
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).

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


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

These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
Medications used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, especially antihypertensive medications, have been implicated frequently in the development of sexual dysfunction. A study of 5485 patients in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program found that, during a 5-year period, 8.3% of male hypertensive patients stopped taking their antihypertensive medications secondary to sexual adverse effects.35x35Curb, JD, Borhani, NO, Blaszkowski, TP, Zimbaldi, N, Fotiu, S, and Williams, W. Long-term surveillance for adverse effects of antihypertensive drugs. JAMA. 1985; 253: 3263–3268
Acupuncture. Though acupuncture has been used to treat male sexual problems for centuries, the scientific evidence to support its use for erectile dysfunction is equivocal at best. In 2009, South Korean scientists conducted a systematic review of studies on acupuncture for ED. They found major design flaws in all of the studies, concluding that "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED."
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."
ED is generally associated with significant changes in established cardiovascular risk factors. Atherosclerosis is the main cause of ED development in both the general population and patients with diabetes. However, the prevalence of ED is greater in patients with diabetes than in the general population.8 ED has been shown to occur at rates as high as 50 % in patients with CAD.9 A meta-analysis of 12 prospective cohort studies has provided evidence that ED is a predictor of IHD associated with an increased risk of CVD, stroke and all-cause mortality.10
Several drugs can produce erectile difficulties, but blood pressure drugs are near the top. ED is an occasional side effect of BP drugs like thiazide diuretics, loop diuretics, and beta-blockers, all of which can decrease blood flow to the penis and make it difficult to get an erection. However, other BP drugs, such as alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and angioten-sin-receptor blockers, rarely cause ED.
In diabetic patients who fail medical management of ED, penile implantation surgery remains a viable therapeutic option. In a recent review of 372 men who underwent implantation of a three-piece inflatable penile implant, 86% reported that the device was still functional 5 years after implantation, and 79% reported that they used the device at least twice monthly.59
Dey J. “Evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes mellitus.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 77. 2002. 276-282. Shabsigh R. “Erectile Dysfunction in Men with Diabetes Mellitus.” Men’s Sexual Health Consult Collection. 2006 Nov. Moore C, Wang R. “Pathophysiology and treatment of diabetic erectile dysfunction.” Asian J Andrology. 2006 Nov. 8: 67-684. Penson D, Latini D, Lubeck D, Wallace K, Henning J, Lue T. “Do impotent men with diabetes have more severe erectile dysfunction and worse quality of life than general population of impotent patients?” Diabetes Care 26. 2003. 1093-1099. Sun P, Cameron A, Seftel A, Shabsigh R, Niederberger C, Guay A. “Erectile dysfunction – an observable marker of diabetes mellitus? A large national epidemiological study.” Journal of Urology 176. 2006. 1081-1085.
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Overall, sexual intercourse does not lead to an extremely exaggerated heart rate or blood pressure level when performed in a familiar setting with one's usual partner.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
When counseling diabetic men who are considering a PDE-5 inhibitor for ED, it is important to set realistic expectations and explain that studies document that all three agents are less effective in diabetic patients than in the general population of men with ED.45–49 For additional information, readers are referred to the excellent review of the use of PDE-5 inhibitors in diabetic men by Vickers and Satyanarayana.50

The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
Penile vibratory stimulator is a battery operated device with oscillating discs that can provide excitation of afferent penile nerves at various regulated frequency and amplitudes. PVS has been utilised to activate the ejaculatory reflex for patients with spinal cord injury above T10 seeking to collect retrogradely ejaculated semen in fertility treatment (10). The Viberect is a vibratory stimulation handheld device approved by FDA for treatment of ED. It is clamp-shaped with two oscillating discs facing each other near the tips, and the glans penis is placed between the two oscillating discs to receive concurrent dorsal and ventral stimulation at adjustable frequencies and amplitudes.
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).

“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.”
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Since then, several other oral PDE-5 inhibitors have been developed, including vardenafil and tadalafil, which generated considerable interest in both the scientific and lay communities. There was also much concern about their safety, especially in men with cardiovascular disease. Compared with the 2 newer PDE-5 inhibitors vardenafil and tadalafil, sildenafil has been available for a much longer time; therefore, the vast majority of published cardiovascular safety studies have been performed on this medication. Recommended starting and maximum doses of oral PDE-5 inhibitors are shown in Table 1.
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.
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