Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
• Blood Vessels: Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially the smallest blood vessels such as those in the penis. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and other circulatory problems. Proper blood flow is absolutely crucial to achieving erection. “Erection is a hydraulic phenomenon that occurs involuntarily,” says Arturo Rolla, MD, of Harvard University School of Medicine. “Nobody can will an erection!” Anything that limits or impairs blood flow can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection, no matter how strong one’s sexual desire.
Lindau ST,  Abramsohn E,  Gosch K,  Wroblewski K,  Spatz ES,  Chan PS,  Spertus J,  Krumholz HM. Patterns and loss of sexual activity in the year following hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction (a United States National Multisite Observational Study), Am J Cardiol , 2012, vol. 109 (pg. 1439-1444)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.01.355
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Cardiologists use METs of oxygen consumption to compare the energy expenditure of different forms of 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
Considering the fact that CV disease presents with higher incidence in patients with erectile dysfunction while at the same time sexual activity by itself poses potential CV risks, the appropriate management of those complex conditions is of utmost importance. Accordingly, the working group of the third Princeton Consensus Conference developed practical guidelines and a simplified algorithm in order to manage sexual dysfunction and sexual activity implementation issues in patients with different levels of CV risk, including hypertensive patients[90].
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.
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!

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.
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)
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.

Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is strongly associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), the persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, but this condition can be successfully treated in the majority of diabetes patients. ED is present in 32% of type 1 and 46% of type 2 DM patients. Several population- based studies of ED prevalence calculated the odds ratios for the association between ED and various chronic diseases. An odds ratio must be sufficiently greater than 1.0 to identify an increased risk. Diabetes has an odds ratio, ED risk multiplier of 4.1, compared with 1.7 for hyperlipidemia and 1.6 for hypertension. Erectile dysfunction in diabetes mellitus (EDDM) patients has been considered to have an organic etiology. Healthcare providers have long realized that ED can be the first symptom of DM.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530
Vascular disease: Vascular diseases are those that affect the blood vessels. These diseases include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol. These diseases, which account for 70% of physical-related causes of ED, restrict blood flow to the heart, the brain, and--in the case of ED--to the penis. Atherosclerosis alone accounts for 50%-60% of ED cases in men over age 60.
Logically, ED secondary to testosterone deficiency should be treated by testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels in men decrease with age.4 Both epidemiological and observational studies have demonstrated that reduced testosterone is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. One meta-analysis showed lower testosterone and higher 17β oestradiol as significant risk predictors despite adjustment for age and body mass index.4 Patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) have been found to have lower testosterone levels than controls, and there is inverse correlation between testosterone and the incidence of major cardiovascular disease (CVD).4 A significant negative correlation has been reported between total testosterone levels and Framingham risk score.4 However, it has been pointed out that ‘It is unclear if this is a causal association or due to low testosterone being a biomarker of poor health’.4 Testosterone replacement as a treatment for …
Physical and emotional stress — whether over-exercising, under-sleeping or just dealing with everyday stressors like work and a busy schedule — causes an increase in “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline. Stress can lower desire for sex. This is because stress can contribute to fatigue or preoccupation with other tasks. It can also significantly affect blood flow by increasing inflammation.
There’s one more thing to remember: A visit to a physician can be helpful even if a man doesn’t want to go near Viagra or try one of the alternatives. In some cases, a treatable medical condition such as low testosterone or depression could explain a case of ED. “Sexual health should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an essential component to wellness,” said urologist Ryan P. Terlecki, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.

Recent revised labeling for sildenafil states that there is a lack of controlled data for its use in patients with resting hypotension (<90/50 mm Hg) or hypertension (>170/110 mm Hg); a history of myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the past 6 months; coronary artery disease or cardiac failure causing unstable angina; or retinitis pigmentosa and possible genetic disorders of retinal PDEs.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
ED is a common complication of diabetes that affects patients' quality of life. While the etiology of this complication may be multifactorial in nature, it is clear that it usually has a strong organic component. Because men with diabetes value their erectile function highly, it is important that providers encourage them to maintain good glycemic, blood pressure, and lipid control to minimize their risk of developing this complication.
This may seem like a lot to manage at a glance, however, just focus on one step at a time. If it is more exercise you want to start with, park your car further away from the front door at work so you have to walk a little more every day. Or go out on a walk to make your phone calls.  If you need to eat better,  try low-fat meat and chicken for lunch. Just keep it simple and don’t try to do it all at once.
The authors observe that multiple factors may be involved. In addition to decreased exercise capacity, patients with chronic heart failure have blood vessel and circulation abnormalities that can reduce blood flow into the penis and interfere with the ability to maintain an erection. And erectile dysfunction can be caused or worsened by many of the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat chronic heart failure.
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
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
To date, there are no studies directly comparing the effectiveness of these three agents among diabetic men with ED, so it is impossible to state that one agent is superior to another in terms of effectiveness in diabetic patients. However, there are an number of studies that compare the individual agents to placebo in diabetic men with ED. For example, Boulton et al.41 completed a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of sildenafil in 219 men with ED and type 2 diabetes. They found that sildenafil resulted in a significant improvement in the ability to both achieve and maintain an erection adequate for sexual intercourse in men with type 2 diabetes. In a similar study, Rendell et al.42 randomized 268 diabetic men with ED to receive either sildenafil in a dose-escalation manner or placebo. At the conclusion of the 12-week study, 56% of the patients in the sildenafil arm reported improved erections, compared to 10% in the placebo arm (P < 0.001). Additionally, 61% of patients in the diabetic arm reported at least one successful attempt at sexual intercourse in the final month of the study, compared to 22% in the control arm (P < 0.001). Similar randomized studies have documented the effectiveness of both tadalafil43 and vardenafil44 in the treatment of diabetes-related ED.
The obvious risks are the same that accompany any surgery: infection, pain, bleeding, and scarring. If for some reason the prosthesis or parts become damaged or dislocated, surgical removal may be necessary. With a general success rate of about 90 percent, any of the devices will restore erections, but they will not affect sexual desire, ejaculation, or orgasm.
Branded Viagra can now be bought over the counter in pharmacies, but please check with your GP first if you have a medical condition. It's important to use a reputable pharmacy, as there is a large market in counterfeit drugs for erectile dysfunction, especially over the internet. These contain varying amounts of the active ingredient and sometimes completely different drugs.
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When antihypertensive medication comes to the fore, certain issues need to be carefully addressed. This is due to the fact that medically induced erectile dysfunction is one of the major reasons for non-adherence and treatment discontinuation, a reality that could have deleterious consequences on patient’s cardiovascular profile and health quality in the long term[38,39].


Ischaemic heart disease (IHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a predominant manifestation of cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, accounting for 17.3 million deaths globally every year; this figure is expected to grow to 23.6 million by the year 2030. Eighty per cent of these deaths occur in lower- and middle-income countries.5 ED and IHD are highly prevalent and occur concomitantly because they share the same risk factors, including diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, obesity and smoking.

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
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References The 9-year follow-up MMAS study also found that self-reported increased cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake correlated positively with the development of ED.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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Theoretically, the risk of a cardiac event during sexual activity should be increased. Sexual activity is associated with an elevated heart rate, blood pressure level, and myocardial oxygen demand, and this increase in hemodynamic stress may result in myocardial ischemia.79x79Kimmel, SE. Sex and myocardial infarction: an epidemiologic perspective. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 10F–13F

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References When matched for age, hypertension, diabetes, and tobacco use, no significant difference was noted in the presence of ED (42% in the myocardial infarction group vs 48% in the control group). However, the presence of severe congestive heart failure has been associated with increased ED. A study of 80 patients with New York Heart Association class III/IV congestive heart failure found that 40% of these patients had complete ED, and another 40% had either mild or moderate ED.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N
Although medication can help extend the lives of men with chronic heart failure, several factors associated with this disease can interfere with a person's ability to engage in and enjoy sexual activities. Fatigue, depression, medication side effects and the fear of damaging the heart can cause people with chronic heart failure to lose interest in sex or wonder whether this activity is safe for them.
There are so many potential reasons a man might develop erectile dysfunction (ED), it's nearly impossible to generalize the best ways to treat it. What works for one man may not work for another simply because they are having problems for different reasons. That said, it may encouraging to hear that there are a variety of options that may be considered, from psychological counseling to lifestyle changes, medications to treatments and devices.
However, sildenafil should be used carefully with nitrates because their combination can result in severe hypotension and death.68 Both short- and long-acting nitrates are commonly prescribed to treat angina, but they have no prognostic benefit. In addition, there are numerous alternatives to treat angina, such as ranolazine and ivabradine, which do not interact with PDE5 inhibitors. As a result, patients with ED wishing to take PDE5 inhibitors can safely discontinue their nitrates and replace this treatment with the other anti-anginal agents.68
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.
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