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).
Although ED can become a permanent condition, this typically isn’t the case for men who experience occasional erectile difficulties. If you have diabetes, you may still be able to overcome ED through a lifestyle that includes sufficient sleep, no smoking, and stress reduction. ED medications are usually well-tolerated, and can be used for many years to help overcome any ED problems.
The natural history of ED in people with diabetes is normally gradual and does not occur overnight. Both vascular and neurological mechanisms are most commonly involved in people with diabetes. Atherosclerosis in the penile and pudendal arteries limits the blood flow into the corpus cavernosum. Because of the loss of compliance in the cavernous trabeculae, the venous flow is also lost. This loss of flow results in the inability of the corpora cavernosae to expand and compress the outflow vessels.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Another contraindication is the use of recreational drugs (“poppers”) that contain amyl nitrate. The guidelines also caution use in patients who have a high risk of cardiovascular effects, including patients with active coronary artery disease who are not taking nitrates, patients with congestive heart failure with a borderline low blood pressure level and low blood volume, or those with complicated multidrug antihypertensive regimens.
A medical history focused on risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and endocrine problems including hypothyroidism, low testosterone levels, and hyperprolactinemia, is very important. Commonly used drugs that disrupt male sexual function are spironolactone (Aldactone), sympathetic blockers such as clonidine (Catapres), guanethidine (Islemin), methyldopa (Aldomet), thiazide diuretics, most antidepressants, ketoconazole (Nizoral), cimetidine (Tagamet), alcohol, methadone, heroin, and cocaine. Finally, assessment of psychiatric history will help identify emotional issues such as interpersonal conflict, performance anxiety, depression, or anxiety.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References During this period, 130 deaths were reported to the US FDA; 41 of these men died or had cardiac arrest within 4 to 5 hours after taking sildenafil, and 27 died or had cardiac arrest either during or immediately after sexual activity. The average age of these men was 64 years. Of the 77 men in this group who died of documented cardiovascular-related events, 41 died of definite or suspected myocardial infarction, 27 died after cardiac arrest, and 6 had symptoms of cardiac disease at the time of death. Sixteen of the men had taken nitroglycerin or organic nitrates in association with sildenafil; another 3 had nitroglycerin in their possession at the time of death. In 48 men, the cause of death was unknown, and another 3 died of cerebrovascular accidents. Overall, it was concluded that sildenafil was not associated with an excess of cardiovascular death.

A deficiency of L-arginine, however, does not generally disrupt nitric oxide synthesis because L-arginine availability is not the rate-limiting step in this process. In fact, research over the past five years has identified an endogenous (occurs in the body naturally) inhibitor called “asymmetric dimethylarginine” or ADMA, an amino acid which blocks the production of nitric oxide. By acting as an L-arginine mimic, this damaging look-alike effectively elbows out L-arginine and pushes it off to the side in the biochemical pathway leading to the synthesis of nitric oxide. ADMA is relatively elevated in patients with hypertension, high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, homocysteine and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), as well as with aging itself. This inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis may very well be the common factor shared by all of these abnormal conditions. Increased levels of this detrimental inhibitor (ADMA) block nitric oxide production, leading to endothelial dysfunction.


If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.

Jelqing is penile massage technique of ancient Arabic origin (52). Men who practise jelqing will stretch their penises while in a semi-erected state and repeatedly milk their penises from base to glans, with their thumb and index finger touching to form an “OK” hand sign around their penile shaft. This massage can be done daily with the aim to achieve greater penile length and harder erections. Unwanted side effects of bruising, pain and fibrosis had been reported. No studies have been done to evaluate the efficacy of jelqing objectively.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Glycemia, as measured by glycosylated hemoglobin, also has been associated with the risk of developing ED in diabetic patients.21x21Klein, R, Klein, BE, Lee, KE, Moss, SE, and Cruickshanks, KJ. Prevalence of self-reported erectile dysfunction in people with long-term IDDM. Diabetes Care. 1996; 19: 135–141
Current American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines quote an absolute contraindication to sildenafil use in the setting of chronic nitrate treatment or the use of short-acting nitrate medications.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References, 73x73Rajagopalan, P, Mazzu, A, Xia, C, Dawkins, R, and Sundaresan, P. Effect of high-fat breakfast and moderate-fat evening meal on the pharmacokinetics of vardenafil, an oral phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. J Clin Pharmacol. 2003; 43: 260–267


Sexual intercourse is an infrequent cause of myocardial infarction. In a study of 1774 patients after myocardial infarction, only 1.5% of these events occurred within 2 hours of sexual intercourse, and sexual activity was considered a direct contributing factor in 0.9%.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
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
Relation between erectile dysfunction prevalence and type of coronary syndrome (A). Time interval (months) between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease symptom onset in chronic coronary syndrome according to the number of vessels involved (B). ACS, acute coronary syndrome; CCS, chronic coronary syndrome, G1: ACS and 1-VD; G2: ACS and 2-,3-VD; G3: CCS. VD, vessel disease; C: the control group with normal coronary angiography. With permission from Montorsi et al.15
If you can't take one of these oral medications, your physician may have you try Caverject (alprostadil for injection), a hormone that you inject into your penis using a fine needle, or Muse (alprostadil urogenital), a tiny suppository that you insert into the tip of the penis. Both of these will bring on an erection within five to 15 minutes without sexual stimulation.
According to Harvard Special Health Report Erectile Dysfunction, one study in the European Heart Journal looked at men newly diagnosed with heart disease, but without ED, who started treatment with the beta-blocker atenolol (Tenormin). Some of the study participants were told about the sexual side effect of the blood pressure drug, and ED was reported by almost one-third of the participants. In contrast, among those who were not told the drug's name or its side effects, only 3% said they experienced ED.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References This prolonged excretion half-life produces enhanced erections up to 36 hours after oral dosing, thereby potentially allowing for more spontaneous engagement of intercourse. The efficacy of tadalafil in the treatment of ED has been proved in randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.78x78Porst, H, Padma-Nathan, H, Giuliano, F, Anglin, G, Varanese, L, and Rosen, R. Efficacy of tadalafil for the treatment of erectile dysfunction at 24 and 36 hours after dosing: a randomized controlled trial. Urology. 2003; 62: 121–125
Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
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
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study of 1,290 men, aged 40–70 years, has documented the extraordinarily high prevalence of erectile dysfunction among aging men: 50% of men at 50 years of age, and 70% by age 70 have erectile dysfunction.2 Furthermore, a recent Italian study of men with severe heart disease has uncovered an astounding 93% with erectile dysfunction 24 months before their heart attack or onset of heart disease symptoms.3
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.
Many products contain undocumented “fillers” that can cause allergic reactions.  In recent years, the FDA has found over 300 herbal products that contain hidden, deceptively labeled, or dangerous ingredients4. And since 2015, the FDA has released public warnings on more than 160 ED supplements and “male enhancement” products found to contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants5 .   An independent study of FDA data, conducted in 2018, found almost 800 herbal supplements that contained unlisted ingredients6.
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.
×