Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.


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.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References The risk of myocardial infarction with sexual activity has been estimated to be less than 3% in high-risk patients with prior cardiovascular disease if they can exercise to more than 7 METs without symptoms.89x89Moss, AJ and Benhorin, J. Prognosis and management after a first myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 1990; 322: 743–753

Experimental hyperglycemia may also affect cavernosal smooth muscle cell contractile responses. In experimental diabetes, penile smooth muscle has augmented force responses to vaconstrictors, possibly mediated by changes in expression of protein kinase C and the RhoA-Rho kinase Ca2+-sensitization pathway.32 These changes may promote flaccidity and alter the relaxation responses to nitric oxide. End-stage penile dysfunction may occur as a result of diabetes, with progressive loss of normal cavernosal endothelium and smooth muscle cells from the corpus cavernosum.33 Replacement by fibrotic tissue may lead to complete erectile failure.34
airdone/ShutterstockErectile dysfunction (ED) is a serious issue for men, which helps explain all the prescription drugs, over-the-counter treatments, and herbal concoctions that claim to cure ED. (In fact, it’s one of the top nine health risks men need to watch out for.) But before any guy decides to take matters into his own hands, he should talk to his doctor about a heart checkup: A new study published in the journal Vascular Medicine suggests ED can signal cardiovascular concerns.
Erectile dysfunction and heart disease are very serious medical conditions that requires prompt treatment. In addition to being a symptom of heart disease; ED is linked to many other physical and psychological problems. Men with ED can be withdrawn from their partner and even avoid romantic relationships. It may be difficult for men with erectile dysfunction to reproduce and can lead to low self-esteem, depression and poor work performance.  Frequent medical check ups for patients with erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure is recommended.
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

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F


Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitrates have only modest antianginal effects and offer no prognostic benefit for mild recurrent angina or unstable angina. Therefore, such anginal symptoms occurring after sildenafil use should be treated with other nonnitrate antianginal agents such as β-blockers.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N
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Following the breakthrough in ED treatment using PDE5-inhibitors, Western medicine has now moved on to a new frontier of regenerative medicine, with stem cell and gene therapy leading the way (25). There is a practical need for novel therapy as a significant portion of diabetic or post-prostatectomy ED patients do not respond to oral pharmacotherapy. To date, stem cells derived from different sites including adipose tissue-derived stem cells, bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells and muscle-derived stem cells have been investigated using animal models for ED, to study their effects on neural, vascular, endothelial or smooth muscle regeneration (25,26).

Usually patients will try less invasive alternatives to treat impotence before opting for surgery. These alternatives may include supplements, herbs, lifestyle changes and even medications. In cases where other treatments do not work to resolve ED, surgery might be a last-resort option. Surgery involves implanting a penile prosthesis. This is a saline-filled silicone device or a malleable device. Although the likelihood of serious side effects is considered to be low, certain risks are associated with surgery to correct erectile dysfunction. These side effects may include: anesthetic risk, device infection, and device malfunction or mechanical failure. Some studies have found that five years following surgery around 10–20 percent of men experience device malfunction and failure. Infection rates are low. Around one percent of men who opt for this type of surgery get an infection.

Finding a potential early sign of heart disease is vital: Every minute in the United States someone dies from a heart disease-related event. Doctors know to watch for risks like obesity and high blood pressure; however, Men’s Health reports 50 percent of men who die from heart disease have never had one of these symptoms. For younger men, treating ED as an indicator of heart health could be a lifesaver.
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.
Red Ginseng — One small randomized trial found evidence that red ginseng may offer modest improvements in ED symptoms (as compared with placebo). A meta-anaylsis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology states, “Traditionally red ginseng has been used to restore and enhance normal well-being, and is often referred to as an adaptogenic….Possible mechanisms of action of red ginseng include hormonal effects similar to those of testosterone. Others have postulated that red ginseng might induce relaxation of the smooth muscles.”  (5)

Ginseng, specifically “red ginseng,” is known as the “herbal Viagra” that helps puts to rest men’s bedroom woes. Red ginseng is when the root has been steamed and then dried. The ginseng root is the part of the plant that is mostly used as a natural remedy when in its supplement form. However, the plant must be grown for a minimum of five years before it can be used. In a 2008 review, seven studies on red ginseng and ED, ranging in dosages from 600 to 1,000 milligrams three times a day, were found to provide evidence for the effectiveness of the herb in ED treatment.


Diabetes care providers, while becoming more aware of the high prevalence of ED in men with diabetes, may not appreciate the importance of maintaining erectile function to their patients. A recent study by Rance et al.40 underscores the fact that diabetic men, regardless of whether they actually have ED, believe that ED has a major impact on quality of life and that it is as important to treat as many other conditions associated with diabetes. In an effort to determine the relative importance of treatment for ED compared to other diabetic complications, they gave 192 consecutive diabetic men and 51 control patients seen at two hospitals a standardized questionnaire that assessed the relative importance of a number of diabetic complications and the patients' willingness to pay per month to avoid a particular complication.
There are a number of herbs and supplements for use in men with ED. However, the overall quality of the studies evaluating these treatments has been low. Therefore, evidence for the effectiveness and safety of these therapies is limited. Many of these therapies have known risks, and there’s a possibility that other risks are yet to be discovered. Always use CAM therapies with caution.
Finding a satisfying solution to ED can be a life-changing event for many men and their partners. In one study of 200 patients and 120 partners, both men and their partners found the AMS penile implant to be satisfying. 92% of patients and 96% of their partners reported sexual activity to be excellent or satisfactory.10 Talk to your doctor about your ED treatment options.
There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.

Although ED is a common complication of diabetes, its effect on quality of life is not well understood. Recent work for the Exploratory Comprehensive Evaluation of Erectile Dysfunction (ExCEED) database demonstrates that in the general population of patients presenting to their urologist, ED negatively affects both general and disease-specific health-related quality of life (HRQOL).35 While this study provides insight into the detrimental affect of ED on quality of life, the cohort is somewhat selected, in that all of the patients were seen in sexual dysfunction clinics and therefore may have been more likely to be bothered by their condition and to report worse quality of life.

In Western medicine approach, health and disease are clearly divided entities. The emphasis is on protection of the individual body from disease or how to replace the body’s lost functions. Antibiotic therapy is used to combat harmful bacteria during infections, exogenous synthetic hormones are used to replace hormone-deficient individuals and artificial prostheses are applied when an organ loses its functions. This is very different from the holistic Eastern approach where the treatment entity is taken as a whole, and the objective is to seek harmony between different bodily systems.
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.
If you’re taking medication to treat blood pressure, depression, pain, allergies, inflammation, seizures, or heart conditions, you’re one of the tens of millions of people at risk for medically induced erectile dysfunction. It’s just the nature of drug side effects. Yet erectile dysfunction is one of the least talked about side effects of prescription medication.
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.
The number of men reporting improvement was at 88% during the study. The number of men involved in the study who reported impotence dropped from 75.3 % to 11.8%. The results of this study raise hope for men who have quit taking other blood pressure medications because they interfered with sexual function. Sexual dysfunction was defined for the study as decreased libido, impotence and poor sexual satisfaction.

Now that we better appreciate the complex sequence of events necessary for erections to occur, it’s no surprise that testosterone alone yields less than perfect results. Erectile dysfunction represents more than just low testosterone, which is just one facet of the spectrum of dysfunctional phenomena that cause sexual dysfunction. Nonetheless, when testosterone is combined with popular drugs like Viagra®, success is enhanced to an even greater degree—orgasmic function improves, along with erectile capacity and libido.20 Testosterone also activates penile nitric oxide; ultrasound studies have demonstrated a 27% increase in arterial blood flow into the penis with testosterone supplementation.23

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (443) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin and other NO donors work through the same NO-cGMP pathway that sildenafil affects, thereby decreasing vascular resistance and blood pressure level.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.
Low intracavernosal nitric oxide synthase levels are found in people with diabetes, smokers, and men with testosterone deficiency. Interference with oxygen delivery or nitric oxide synthesis can prevent intracavernosal blood pressure from rising to a level sufficient to impede emissary vein outflow, leading to an inability to acquire or sustain rigid erection. Examples include decreased blood flow and inadequate intracavernosal oxygen levels when atherosclerosis involves the hypogastric artery or other feeder vessels and conditions, such as diabetes, that are associated with suboptimal nitric oxide synthase activity.

There are currently two models of the inflatable penile prosthesis (IPP), namely, the two-piece IPP vs. the three-piece IPP. The three-piece IPP consists of a pair of corporal cylinders, a scrotal pump and an abdominal reservoir filled with saline. Owing to the presence of the reservoir, the corporal cylinders can be completely deflated to give the patient the physiological flaccid state when not in use, and likewise a maximally turgid state when inflated (21). The two-piece IPP lacks an abdominal reservoir and is often offered in patients with whom placement of reservoir is challenging or not possible such as following radical cysto-prostatectomy with orthotopic ileal neobladder creation, or patients who had previous open book fracture of the pelvis with metal implants. The concept of ectopic reservoir placement has allowed many of these men the option for three-piece IPP placement (22). Technological advances have improved mechanical reliability, reduced prosthesis infection risk and offered excellent patient and partner satisfaction rate (23).


Abnormalities in the vascular, neural, endocrine, muscular, or psychiatric systems can result in ED.2,3 EDDM is due to multisystemic disease. Atrophy or apoptosis of cavernosal smooth muscle can occur due to loss of Bcl-2 expression in cavernosal smooth muscle and lead to ED. Abnormal amounts of advanced glycation end products is a common occurrence. These chemicals may have an effect on potassium channels that facilitate intracellular calcium release and subsequent cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation. Connective tissue synthesis is increased due to transforming growth factor-beta. The decrease in smooth muscle and the increase in collagen decreases the compliance of the erectile tissue. Neuropathic damage to both the somatic and autonomic nerves has been clearly defined in DM. Partial occlusion of the pelvic or intracavernosal arteries, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, and depression associated with a chronic illness (DM) can all play a primary or secondary role in the development of EDDM. On a molecular level, studies have demonstrated decreased levels of endothelial and neuronal nitric acid synthase (NS) and decreased cavernosal artery and sinusoidal response to nitric oxide. Abnormalities in nitric oxide rapidly render the functional syncytium of the corpora cavernosa unable to synchronously relax. As the patient with diabetes ages, the concentration of constrictors, including endothelin, prostanoids, and possibly angiotensin, increases as the production of the relaxants, including nitric oxide, vasointestinal peptide, and prostacyclin, decreases.


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.
Mechanical therapy is also effective and is especially well-accepted in men with stable partners. Vacuum-assisted erection devices are effective in creating erections in as much as 67% of cases. Vacuum pressure encourages increased arterial inflow, and occlusive tension rings discourage venous outflow from the penile corpus cavernosae. The penis placed inside the cylinder, a pump is used to produce a vacuum that pulls the blood into the penis. After the tension ring is slipped onto the base of the penis, the cylinder is removed. Erection lasts until the rings are removed. The one-time expense of this therapy is $120–300.

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.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In study patients taking these medications compared with controls, significant decreases in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were found, as well as significant increases in length of maximal tumescence per nocturnal penile tumescence testing at 2 weeks. Hypoglycemia secondary to the use of insulin or hypoglycemic agents may result in ED or orgasmic dysfunction.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
Like the case of untreated hypertensive patients, evaluation of sexual dysfunction in hypertensive patients under antihypertensive regime, should primarily exclude other concomitant diseases and pharmaceutical agents. Consecutively, a competent physician with advanced communicational skills should try to “discover” medically induced erectile dysfunction since a vast majority of patients being under complex antihypertensive regimes usually attribute the undesirable effect to normal aging thus not relating it to their current medication. Moreover, even physicians seldom report the cases of sexual dysfunction associated with certain medications. When medically induced sexual dysfunction is finally disclosed and a shift in medication is deemed necessary, b-blockers along with diuretics should generally be the first categories to be changed, unless they are deemed absolutely indicated for the individual patient. Ideally, an ARB could constitute the mainstay of therapy in these cases. If sexual dysfunction still persists, then more effective remedies should be elected paving the way for the introduction of phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5).

Testosterone cypionate and testosterone enanthate injections are used for replacement therapy in patients with low testosterone. Other formulations, such as gels and patches, are recommended in older patients with chronic conditions.57 Serum prostate specific antigen should be measured before starting testosterone replacement, then 3–6 months after starting the treatment, followed by annual measurement.74
Most importantly, herbal supplements are not well regulated in the United States.  Studies have shown that 40-50% of herbal supplements do not even contain the supposed main ingredient, and many contain substances that are not listed which may have dangerous side effects2.  Another study found that over two thirds of the products tested had substituted other plant species for the plants listed on the label, and a third of products also contained other fillers or contaminants3.  A study by the New York State Attorney General of herbal products sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart found that four out of every five products didn’t contain the ingredient they claimed!  Fourteen US states and territories have petitioned Congress to regulate the herbal supplements industry.

After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes, heart failure and stroke, those taking PDE5 inhibitors were found to be markedly less likely to die than those taking alprostadil or no erectile dysfunction drugs. Filling more prescriptions for PDE5 inhibitors appeared to be associated with a greater benefit, although Andersson said that trend should be interpreted with caution because the study was not large enough for a definitive dose-response analysis.
Some blood pressure medicines can also cause erectile dysfunction. Thiazide diuretics and beta-blockers are most likely to cause problems, but this is not a common effect of these medicines and will not happen to everyone. If you are taking either of these medicines and are worried about erectile dysfunction, your GP may be able to change your medicines.

"The answer to the question, 'Can patients with heart disease safely have sex?' is almost always 'Yes,' unless they have such bad heart failure or severe artery disease that even a moderate amount of exertion will cause terrible chest pain," says Richard Stein, MD, who is director of preventive cardiology at New York City's Beth Israel Hospital. "And if that is the case, sex is probably the last thing on their minds anyway."

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.

Higher consumption of fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and beans helps to keep blood pressure in the favorable range.10 Beans, nuts and seeds have unique cholesterol-lowering capabilities.11-13 Berries and the flavonoids they contain have a blood pressure-lowering effect, plus berries and pomegranate have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that protect against the development of heart disease.14-18

The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
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