Figure. Progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction occurs early in atherosclerosis and prevents blood vessels from dilating properly. When the blood vessels that supply the penis are not able to dilate during sexual stimulation because of endothelial dysfunction, the penis cannot fill with blood, and the man develops erectile dysfunction. As atherosclerosis progresses, plaques build up in blood vessels and blood flow is slowed, further worsening erectile function. A heart attack occurs when an atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, a blood clot forms over the plaque, and blood flow to the heart muscle is completely blocked. Atherosclerotic risk factors (black arrows) worsen cardiovascular health; modification of these risk factors (red arrows) improves cardiovascular health.
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.
Luckily, awareness of ED as a significant and common complication of diabetes has increased in recent years, mainly because of increasing knowledge of male sexual function and the rapidly expanding armamentarium of novel treatments being developed for impotence. Studies of ED suggest that its prevalence in men with diabetes ranges from 35–75% versus 26% in general population. The onset of ED also occurs 10–15 years earlier in men with diabetes than it does in sex-matched counterparts without diabetes.

Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.
Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
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