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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Another oral treatment that has been used with very little success is yohimbine (Yocon, Yohimex). This is an alpha 2 adrenergic receptor blocker that increases cholinergic and decreases adrenergic tone. It stimulates the mid-brain and increases libido. Optimal results occur when used in men with psychogenic ED. Side effects include anxiety and insomnia.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Possible etiologies for ED secondary to hypertension include vascular damage due to hypertensive changes as well as hormonal abnormalities such as elevated prolactin levels.30x30Jaffe, A, Chen, Y, Kisch, ES, Fischel, B, Alon, M, and Stern, N. Erectile dysfunction in hypertensive subjects: assessment of potential determinants. Hypertension. 1996; 28: 859–862
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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.
Myocardial ischaemia is caused by the reduction of coronary blood flow as a result of fixed or dynamic epicardial coronary artery stenosis, abnormal constriction or deficient relaxation of coronary microcirculation, or because of reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.56 Atherosclerosis is the major cause of myocardial ischaemia. Plaque that develops in atherosclerosis can rupture causing platelet aggregation and subsequent thrombus formation, which leads to MI. The other mechanisms of myocardial ischaemia are encountered far less than atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction has an important role in the progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction enhances the intimal proliferation and malregulation that results in plaque destabilisation in the arteries.6 This process, coupled with paradoxical vasoconstriction, can result in major cardiovascular events such as MI.32

Medicines known as PDE5 inhibitors can help two-thirds of men with ED. These include Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil). You may need to take several doses over time before they work properly, and you may need to adjust the dose. National guidelines say you can be prescribed these drugs from six months after a heart attack, providing your condition is stable.
With early detection, doctors can suggest preventive measures like statins, blood pressure meds, revamping eating habits and getting more exercise. Try these two exercises that can cut your risk of heart disease in half. The study researchers told Science Daily, “Our study supports a more aggressive CVD risk assessment and management for persons with erectile dysfunction, including young men who may otherwise be categorized as low-risk due to their young ages.” Check out the sexual health conditions affecting millennial men.
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.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Postulated mechanisms of effect on sexual function with these centrally acting medications have included increased prolactin levels and a direct effect on α2-adrenergic receptors in the central nervous system.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31
Even if you do not take blood pressure drugs, you should get your blood pressure checked as high BP also can be a sign of ED. In fact, men with ED are about 38% more likely to have high blood pressure than those without ED, according to a study that examined the medical records of more than 1.9 million men. That is not too surprising, since ED often occurs in men who smoke or are overweight—both of which are common risk factors for high blood pressure.
Gazzaruso C,  Solerte SB,  Pujia A,  Coppola A,  Vezzoli M,  Salvucci F,  Valenti C,  Giustina A,  Garzaniti A. Erectile dysfunction as a predictor of cardiovascular events and death in diabetic patients with angiographically proven asymptomatic coronary artery disease: a potential protective role for statins and 5-phosphodiesterase inhibitors, J Am Coll Cardiol , 2008, vol. 51 (pg. 2040-2044)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2007.10.069
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (328) | Google ScholarSee all References Their mean resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels decreased by 6% and 11%, respectively, compared with baseline. These patients also experienced a mild decrease in mean resting right atrial pressure, pulmonary artery pressure, pulmonary artery occlusion pressure, and cardiac output. However, the hemodynamic response to exercise was preserved. Phase 2 and 3 trials showed no difference in the rate of adverse events between sildenafil and placebo in patients being treated with antihypertensive medications. The effects of sildenafil on blood pressure level were similar in patients who were taking antihypertensive medications compared with those who were not. In healthy volunteers, no consistent or significant doserelated electrocardiographic (ECG) changes were noted at 1 and 2 hours after doses of sildenafil ranging from 1.25 to 200 mg.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, patients with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy and idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis are at increased risk of syncope and sudden death after exercise.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


Experimental in vivo studies have implicated central and peripheral neuropathy, impaired neurotransmission, and endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of diabetic ED.26,27 Copulatory behavior and penile reflexes are uniformly impaired 4–12 months after the onset of diabetes in the BB rat.26,27 McVary et al.26 found that peripheral neuropathy accounts for only part of the dysfunctional findings, and that spinal sexual reflexes were also severely impaired.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Early work in this field, performed by Masters and Johnson in 1966, involved evaluation of young patients in a laboratory setting and found that heart rates and systolic blood pressure levels during sexual activity approached levels seen during maximal exercise.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, sildenafil was effective in patients with diabetes mellitus.58x58Rendell, MS, Rajfer, J, Wicker, PA, Smith, MD, and Sildenafil Diabetes Study Group. Sildenafil for treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1999; 281: 421–426
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Aside from the economic costs, ED can have severe psychological effects, resulting in poor self-image, decreased self-esteem, depression, and mental stress, and negative effects on personal relationships.2x2NIH Consensus Development Panel on Impotence. NIH Consensus Conference: impotence. JAMA. 1993; 270: 83–90
The research is based on a Swedish national database of health records that includes all hospitals in Sweden. Researchers analyzed the records of men age 80 years or younger who were hospitalized for a first heart attack between 2007 and 2013. Tracking the men for an average of 3.3 years following this first heart attack, they compared outcomes among those who subsequently filled a prescription for a PDE5 inhibitor or alprostadil to those who did not. Overall just over 7 percent of men were prescribed an erectile dysfunction drug, 92 percent of whom were prescribed a PDE5 inhibitor and 8 percent of whom were prescribed alprostadil.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a study of 132 patients evaluated by penile duplex ultrasonography after intracorporeal papaverine injection found that hypertension alone was not an independent risk factor for vasculogenic ED.34x34Shabsigh, R, Fishman, IJ, Schum, C, and Dunn, JK. Cigarette smoking and other vascular risk factors in vasculogenic impotence. Urology. 1991; 38: 227–231
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

Obesity is a strong predictor of ED as it is associated with other risk factors, such as diabetes, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.4 Obesity increases the risk of ED by 30–90 % and acts as an independent risk factor for CVD. Obese men with ED have greater impairment in endothelial function than non-obese men with ED.5 Moreover, high BMI causes low testosterone levels, which in turn leads to ED, as observed in a prospective trial involving 7,446 participants.50
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
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
Treatment of ED which was previously confined to invasive procedures, cavernosal injections or to rather ineffective oral medications was revolutionized in 1999 with the introduction of the orally administered PDE5 inhibitor sildenafil. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are the first-line therapy for ED of organic aetiology unless there is a specific contraindication to their use. This class of agents is widely used because of its effectiveness and safety.38 Interactions with cardiovascular drugs have been minimal with the exception of nitrates and other nitric oxide (NO) donors (such as nicorandil), where co-administration may result in severe vasodilation and hypotension. However, nitrates are often overused in clinical practice; therefore, the option of their discontinuation should be considered. A strong body of clinical data shows that all three agents (sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil) do not increase the risk of non-fatal myocardial infarction, stroke, or cardiovascular deaths. These drugs do not exacerbate ischaemia or worsen exercise tolerance in patients with known CAD who achieve levels of exercise comparable or greater than that achieved during sexual intercourse.38,39 Phosphodiesterase type 5 is expressed throughout the human body, including the pulmonary and systemic vasculature and hypertrophied myocardium. While currently their only additional indication, beyond ED, is idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (for sildenafil and tadalafil), they show potential to be of benefit in several other conditions, such as CAD and systolic heart failure.39 Mechanisms of benefit of PDE5 inhibitors include pulmonary and systemic vasodilation, increased myocardial contractility, reduced large artery stiffness and wave reflections, improved endothelial function, and reduced apoptosis, fibrosis and hypertrophy through mechanisms involving NO, cyclic guanosine monophosphate, protein kinase G and Rho kinase.39 A very important issue is whether treatment of ED per se (and not of its risk factors and comorbidities) will have an impact on cardiovascular risk. While this applies to all therapeutic modalities of ED, it is particularly pertinent for PDE5 inhibitors, since they represent the mainstay of ED therapy. Data are limited to date. Gazzaruso et al.21 showed a trend of PDE5 inhibitors to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in diabetic patients with silent CAD and ED, while Frantzen et al.40 showed that 2 years after the introduction of sildenafil, the relative risk of the incidence of CVD among men with ED compared with healthy men significantly decreased from 1.7 to 1.1.
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.
SOURCES: Jackson, G. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, July 2005; vol 2: pp 513-516. Graham Jackson, MD, cardiologist, Cardiothoracic Centre, St. Thomas' Hospital, London. Richard Stein, MD, professor of clinical medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; director of preventive cardiology, Beth Israel Hospital, New York City; spokesman, American Heart Association. Irwin Goldstein, MD, editor-in-chief, The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
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