Currently, the preferred treatment for erectile dysfunction includes sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis). However, numerous experts have raised concerns about the use of these drugs in patients with chronic heart failure who also take nitrates (or other medications that relax and widen blood vessels). This drug combination has been shown to be dangerous, because it can increase the risk for a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.


But there are also medical devices like the Elator, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is custom-made with medical-grade silicone based on a patient’s girth and shaft. The technology, which has no known risk factors, has two thin bars that glide along the bottom of the penis, and hold the organ partially or fully erect with a soft, flexible loop, a sliding latch and a base lock and base ring.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Different classes of β-blockers have been postulated to have differential effects on erectile function, with the nonselective β-blockers (eg, propranolol) having more deleterious effects than the more cardioselective medications (eg, atenolol, metoprolol).42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The Princeton Consensus Panel provided guidelines (Table 4) for physicians regarding patients who are being evaluated for their level of risk in resuming sexual activity.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
Other effective Diabetic Erectile Dysfunction Treatment therapies available include (a) an intraurethral suppository of the vasodilator drug alprostadil (prostaglandin E1), (b) intracavernosal self injection (penile self injection) of the non-specific PDE drug papaverine, the non-selective alpha-adrenergic antagonist phentolamine, and the vasodilator prostaglandin E1, used alone or in combination, or (c) penile prostheses (penile implants).

ED can be caused by many things. The most common causes in men with diabetes are problems related to blood vessel– and nerve-related complications. Sometimes, though rarely, ED can be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Depression can also cause ED, as can stress and excessive worrying about sexual performance. Certain medications can cause temporary ED.


Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (29) | Google ScholarSee all References After controlling for diabetes mellitus, tobacco use, and hyperlipidemia, hypertension was not found to be an independent predictor of vasculogenic ED in 440 impotent men as measured by the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
To reduce the risk of side effects from these medications, including sexual problems, take medications exactly as prescribed. If you still have side effects, talk to your doctor about other possible medications that may have fewer side effects. On the other hand, you should not take any medication that promotes and erection while on medication to lower blood pressure.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Avoiding sexual activity between 6 AM and noon may be recommended to higher-risk patients because this is the time of peak incidence of most arrhythmias, myocardial ischemia, sudden cardiac death, and cerebrovascular accidents.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
There are blood pressure medications that do not cause erectile dysfunction (ED). Some older blood pressure medications, especially beta blockers and thiazide diuretics, are the most likely to cause ED as a side effect. Better options include calcium channel blockers, which lower high blood pressure through a different mechanism. Don't just go off your medications, though; high blood pressure itself is a common cause of ED, so lowering your blood pressure is an important part of your ED treatment plan. And if you stop taking your blood pressure medications 'cold turkey', your blood pressure could actually sky rocket, putting you at risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Work with your doctor on ways to lower your blood pressure without lowering your sex drive.

* Low-risk patients include those with complete revascularization (eg, via coronary artery bypass grafting, stenting, or angioplasty), patients with asymptomatic controlled hypertension, those with mild valvular disease, and patients with left ventricular dysfunction/heart failure (NYHA classes I and II) who achieved 5 metabolic equivalents of the task METS without ischemia on recent exercise testing.
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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References Vardenafil has been shown to be significantly more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to diabetes mellitus and after radical retropubic prostatectomy.69x69Goldstein, I, Young, JM, Fischer, J, Bangerter, K, Segerson, T, Taylor, T, and Vardenafil Diabetes Study Group. Vardenafil, a new phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes: a multicenter double-blind placebo-controlled fixed-dose study. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26: 777–783
Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338

Despite its limitations in detecting CVD without significant stenosis, EST (with or without imaging) can further define the cardiovascular risk in patients with ED and no overt CAD and may be particularly helpful for identifying silent CAD in patients with diabetes. Chemical stress tests are appropriate for patients who cannot complete an EST or in whom ECG is non-interpretable. In patients with established CVD, an interpretable EST is mandatory in the indeterminate risk category and is at the discretion of the cardiologist in the low risk category (Table 3B), since it determines exercise ability and estimates cardiovascular risk associated with sexual activity.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References However, other studies have noted that, when blood pressure levels are monitored after initiation of antihypertensive therapy, changes in blood pressure level are not correlated with sexual function.38x38Rosen, RC, Kostis, JB, Jekelis, A, and Taska, LS. Sexual sequelae of antihypertensive drugs: treatment effects on self-report and physiological measures in middle-aged male hypertensives. Arch Sex Behav. 1994; 23: 135–152
A number of over-the-counter herbal supplements claim to treat ED. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you should avoid products labeled as “herbal Viagra.” These supplements can increase blood flow and cause dangerous drops in blood pressure. Risk may be particularly high for men who are using nitrates. Herbal Viagra can also interact with other prescription drugs. Herbal Viagra products may contain potentially toxic compounds that aren’t listed on the label.
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
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
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.
Diabetes is known to sabotage two body parts that provide essential components of an erection: nerves and blood vessels. Studies suggest that diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) is the most important risk factor for ED in people with diabetes. If pelvic nerves that trigger penis muscles to relax are impaired, there may be a break in the chain between brain and penis, disrupting erection. Some researchers suspect that an inadequate supply of oxygen to the nerves causes this damage.
A similar situation develops in the fragile penile circulation. Any disturbance in nitric oxide production lowers the capacity to dilate penile arteries, impairing penile engorgement for erection. Release of nitric oxide is readily sabotaged by many conditions, including elevated levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, smoking, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and excessive consumption of dietary saturated fat.9 If an artery’s inner wall can’t produce nitric oxide, an abnormal constriction of the arteries to the penis follows, effectively choking off blood flow.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil is taken orally 1 hour before anticipated sexual intercourse and enhances the normal response to sexual stimulation; however, it has no effect on erections in the absence of stimulation.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Side effects of sildenafil are similar to those from taking niacin or any vasodilator, namely, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, and flushing. Some individuals experience a bluish tinge of their cornea, which makes them feel as if they are wearing light blue–tinted sunglasses. This effect can last for several hours. Syncope and myocardial infarction, the most serious side effects, are seen in men who are also taking nitrates for coronary heart disease. Sildenafil also has adverse effects in people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy because a decrease in preload and after load in the cardiac output can increase the outflow obstruction, culminating in an unstable hemodynamic state.
In a prospective human phase 1 open-label and single-arm study reported by Haahr et al. (27), 17 men with refractory post radical prostatectomy ED were given a single intracavernosal injection of autologous adipose-derived regenerative cells (ADRCs) freshly isolated after a liposuction. The procedures were well-tolerated and over a 6-month follow-up period, 8 of 17 men showed improvement of their erectile function.
In another study from ExCEED, Penson et al.38 compared erectile function and disease-specific quality of life of men with ED and diabetes to those of men with ED without diabetes. They found that those with diabetes reported significantly worse erectile function (P = 0.004) and intercourse satisfaction (P = 0.04) than those without diabetes. Importantly, the diabetic patients also reported that ED had a significantly worse psychological impact on their overall emotional life than did their nondiabetic counterparts (P = 0.01). Interestingly, no differences were noted between the two groups in the psychological impact of ED on the sexual experience.
While a widely held perception is that CVD drugs cause ED, data attest towards the contrary and some agents may be even beneficial.41 Only thiazide diuretics lead clearly to ED, while some older beta-blockers also do so, but the side-effect of ED was very low (∼3%) when the patient was blinded for the drug administration.42 In fact, the vasodilating nebivolol may even improve erectile function.35,43 ACE-inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers, and calcium-channel blockers are reported to have neutral or even a positive effect on erectile function35,41,43 but more evidence is needed. Regarding statins, the largest body of evidence point towards a beneficial effect.44 A negative effect has been reported in high statin doses, possibly related to a potential reduction in serum testosterone levels, but this dose dependency warrants further investigation. In terms of patient management, when ED onset and therapy initiation are linked and a cause-and-effect association is presumed, a short period of drug withdrawal with monitoring for ED resolution for verification may be an option. In patients who developed ED long after the initiation of CV drug treatment, sexual dysfunction is less likely to be drug associated and PDE5 inhibition therapy may be initiated.

Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References However, subsequent studies of older patients who had sexual intercourse in their home and were monitored with ambulatory ECG reported significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Of 1774 patients with a history of myocardial infarction, only 2 who had experienced a myocardial infarction after sexual intercourse were able to exercise to at least 6 METs without symptoms.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


Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common disorder that affects the quality of life of many patients. It is prevalent in more than half of males aged over 60 years. Increasing evidence suggests that ED is predominantly a vascular disorder. Endothelial dysfunction seems to be the common pathological process causing ED. Many common risk factors for atherosclerosis such as diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia are prevalent in patients with ED and so management of these common cardiovascular risk factors can potentially prevent ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors provide short-term change of haemodynamic factors to help initiate and maintain penile erection. They have been shown to be an effective and safe treatment strategy for ED in patients with heart disease, including those with ischaemic heart disease and hypertension.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Withdrawal of sexual stimulation causes a return of sympathetic tone and degradation of cGMP, predominantly by phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) within the trabecular smooth muscle.11x11Nehra, A. Intracavernosal therapy: when oral agents fail. Curr Urol Rep. 2001; 2: 468–472
Erection is a neurovascular event that involves spinal and supra spinal pathways. The final common pathway involves the release of nitric oxide (NO) from both endothelial cells and neurons, which acts as a vasodilator causing penile engorgement and erection. NO is degraded by the enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE) type 5 in the penis. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, results when the neurovascular pathway is interrupted by medical conditions or drugs. A 15-item self-administered questionnaire, the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), is one of the most useful tools to evaluate erectile function (EF) in clinical trials, although of much less use in routine clinical practice. The MMAS (Massachusetts Male Aging Study) was the first major epidemiological investigation to study the prevalence of ED. The study found that ED was three times more common in patients with diabetes mellitus. The aetiopathogenesis of ED in diabetes is multifactorial, with vascular and neural factors being equally implicated. Hyperglycaemia is believed to give rise to biochemical perturbations that lead to these microvascular changes. In the MMAS, ED in diabetes was strongly correlated with glycaemic control, duration of disease and diabetic complications. The incidence increased with increasing age, duration of diabetes and deteriorating metabolic control, and was higher in individuals with type 2 diabetes than those with type 1.ED in men with diabetes often affects their quality of life and, as patients are often reluctant to come forward with their symptoms, a carefully taken history is one of the most useful approaches in identifying affected individuals. The PDE inhibitors have revolutionised the management of ED and oral drug therapy is currently first-line therapy for the condition. These agents act by potentiating the action of intracavernosal NO, thereby leading to a more sustained erection. Sildenafil was the first PDE5 inhibitor to undergo evaluation and has been studied extensively. More recently two other agents, vardenafil and tadalafil, have been introduced. All the drugs have been shown to be effective across a wide range of aetiologies of ED, including diabetes. The drugs have been shown to improve EF domain scores, penetration and maintenance of erection, resulting in more successful intercourse. Their effects are greater at higher doses. Sildenafil and vardenafil are shorter-acting agents, while tadalafil has a longer half-life allowing the user more flexibility in sexual activity. Common adverse effects include headache, nasal congestion and dyspepsia, all actions related to inhibition of PDE5. The drugs are generally well tolerated and withdrawal from the clinical studies as a result of drug-related adverse effects were rare. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the presence of oral nitrates is absolutely contraindicated. The clinical studies to date have not evaluated the use of one drug in the case of treatment failure with another agent. Sublingual apomorphine, which stimulates central neurogenic pathways, is a new agent and may be a suitable alternative in those patients in whom PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective or contraindicated. In clinical trials, all IIEF domains except sexual desire were found to have improved after apomorphine. The median times to erection in these studies were 18.9 and 18.8 minutes for the 2 and 3mg doses, respectively. Intraurethral and intracavernosal alprostadil may be a useful alternative when oral drug therapy is ineffective or contraindicated. The management of ED in the diabetic patient may often involve a multidisciplinary approach where psychosexual counselling and specialist urologist advice is required in addition to the skills and expertise of the diabetologist. Finally, the introduction of the new oral agents have completely revolutionised the management of ED and allowed more individuals to come forward for treatment.
In the vessels that supply the heart, healthy arteries enlarge in diameter up to 50% during exercise when sufficient nitric oxide is present. Because of its brief half-life, a continual supply of nitric oxide is required for optimal effect. If the supply of nitric oxide is inadequate, endothelial dysfunction—a core factor in heart disease—is made worse. Endothelial dysfunction can trigger the growth of coronary plaque.8
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
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.

Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23
A considerable number of patients with ED can have psychogenic factors as the only cause, or in combination with organic causes of ED. Depression, low self-esteem and social stresses are among the psychogenic factors that can lead to ED. Depression is an independent risk factor for both ED and IHD; these three disease conditions are interlinked.51 Psychogenic ED can be managed by multiple psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, couples counselling and guided sexual stimulation techniques.52
De Berardis et al.6 assessed general HRQOL in 1,460 men with type 2 diabetes in Italy. Within the cohort, 615 men reported that they never experienced ED, 346 stated that they occasionally had ED, and 449 stated that they frequently had ED. They then compared general HRQOL among these three groups. In the univariate analysis, they found that degree of ED negatively correlated with general HRQOL scores in all eight domains of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) health survey questionnaire. In the multivariate analysis, ED was not independently associated with physical function, bodily pain, or role limitations due to physical problem scores but was independently associated with general HRQOL outcomes in the domains of general health (P = 0.004), role limitations due to emotional problems (P = 0.001), vitality (P = 0.001), social functioning (P = 0.01), and overall mental health (P = 0.002). Another study examining the effect of ED on quality of life in hemodialysis patients, more than half of whom had diabetes, also noted an independent, negative effect of ED on the emotional domains of general HRQOL.39

While a widely held perception is that CVD drugs cause ED, data attest towards the contrary and some agents may be even beneficial.41 Only thiazide diuretics lead clearly to ED, while some older beta-blockers also do so, but the side-effect of ED was very low (∼3%) when the patient was blinded for the drug administration.42 In fact, the vasodilating nebivolol may even improve erectile function.35,43 ACE-inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers, and calcium-channel blockers are reported to have neutral or even a positive effect on erectile function35,41,43 but more evidence is needed. Regarding statins, the largest body of evidence point towards a beneficial effect.44 A negative effect has been reported in high statin doses, possibly related to a potential reduction in serum testosterone levels, but this dose dependency warrants further investigation. In terms of patient management, when ED onset and therapy initiation are linked and a cause-and-effect association is presumed, a short period of drug withdrawal with monitoring for ED resolution for verification may be an option. In patients who developed ED long after the initiation of CV drug treatment, sexual dysfunction is less likely to be drug associated and PDE5 inhibition therapy may be initiated.


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References This study concluded that patients who have stable coronary artery disease who can exercise to 4.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) with a negative or mildly positive stress test and without angina or hypotension can safely take sildenafil. Physicians who prescribe sildenafil should counsel their patients that, if they have chest pain or other cardiac symptoms with sexual intercourse, they should not take nitrates and should immediately call their physician.66x66Jackson, G. Sexual intercourse and stable angina pectoris. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 35F–37F

* Low-risk patients include those with complete revascularization (eg, via coronary artery bypass grafting, stenting, or angioplasty), patients with asymptomatic controlled hypertension, those with mild valvular disease, and patients with left ventricular dysfunction/heart failure (NYHA classes I and II) who achieved 5 metabolic equivalents of the task METS without ischemia on recent exercise testing.


Guidelines recommend that phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors are the first-line drug for the treatment of ED (Table 1). Sildenafil citrate was the first oral drug approved for ED in the US.59 The newer PDE5 inhibitors include vardenafil, tadalafil and avanafil. The inhibition of PDE5 enhances cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP)-NO-mediated vasodilatation by preventing PDE5 catabolism of cGMP and so delaying detumescence. PDE5 inhibitors increase the number and duration of erections, as well as the percentage of successful sexual intercourse.60
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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