Cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction (ED) are closely interrelated disease processes. Erectile dysfunction reportedly affects 10 million to 20 million men in the United States and more than 100 million men worldwide. Each year, about 500,000 persons in the United States survive a myocardial infarction, and an estimated 11 million have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients. We explore the relationship between ED and the presence of cardiovascular disease in the general population. We also review the prevalence and pathophysiological associations of ED and cardiovascular disease. The risks of sexual activity for patients with cardiovascular disease are discussed, as are prevention and treatment strategies for ED in this patient population.
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.

Erection is a neurovascular event that involves spinal and supra spinal pathways. The final common pathway involves the release of nitric oxide (NO) from both endothelial cells and neurons, which acts as a vasodilator causing penile engorgement and erection. NO is degraded by the enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE) type 5 in the penis. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, results when the neurovascular pathway is interrupted by medical conditions or drugs. A 15-item self-administered questionnaire, the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), is one of the most useful tools to evaluate erectile function (EF) in clinical trials, although of much less use in routine clinical practice. The MMAS (Massachusetts Male Aging Study) was the first major epidemiological investigation to study the prevalence of ED. The study found that ED was three times more common in patients with diabetes mellitus. The aetiopathogenesis of ED in diabetes is multifactorial, with vascular and neural factors being equally implicated. Hyperglycaemia is believed to give rise to biochemical perturbations that lead to these microvascular changes. In the MMAS, ED in diabetes was strongly correlated with glycaemic control, duration of disease and diabetic complications. The incidence increased with increasing age, duration of diabetes and deteriorating metabolic control, and was higher in individuals with type 2 diabetes than those with type 1.ED in men with diabetes often affects their quality of life and, as patients are often reluctant to come forward with their symptoms, a carefully taken history is one of the most useful approaches in identifying affected individuals. The PDE inhibitors have revolutionised the management of ED and oral drug therapy is currently first-line therapy for the condition. These agents act by potentiating the action of intracavernosal NO, thereby leading to a more sustained erection. Sildenafil was the first PDE5 inhibitor to undergo evaluation and has been studied extensively. More recently two other agents, vardenafil and tadalafil, have been introduced. All the drugs have been shown to be effective across a wide range of aetiologies of ED, including diabetes. The drugs have been shown to improve EF domain scores, penetration and maintenance of erection, resulting in more successful intercourse. Their effects are greater at higher doses. Sildenafil and vardenafil are shorter-acting agents, while tadalafil has a longer half-life allowing the user more flexibility in sexual activity. Common adverse effects include headache, nasal congestion and dyspepsia, all actions related to inhibition of PDE5. The drugs are generally well tolerated and withdrawal from the clinical studies as a result of drug-related adverse effects were rare. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the presence of oral nitrates is absolutely contraindicated. The clinical studies to date have not evaluated the use of one drug in the case of treatment failure with another agent. Sublingual apomorphine, which stimulates central neurogenic pathways, is a new agent and may be a suitable alternative in those patients in whom PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective or contraindicated. In clinical trials, all IIEF domains except sexual desire were found to have improved after apomorphine. The median times to erection in these studies were 18.9 and 18.8 minutes for the 2 and 3mg doses, respectively. Intraurethral and intracavernosal alprostadil may be a useful alternative when oral drug therapy is ineffective or contraindicated. The management of ED in the diabetic patient may often involve a multidisciplinary approach where psychosexual counselling and specialist urologist advice is required in addition to the skills and expertise of the diabetologist. Finally, the introduction of the new oral agents have completely revolutionised the management of ED and allowed more individuals to come forward for treatment.


The development of PDE5-inhibitors is a clear example of how Western medicine approached the problem of ED differently from Eastern medicine. The erectogenic effect of sildenafil (Viagra®) was discovered by accident when patients undergoing heart clinical trials reported better erections as a side effect after taking sildenafil. This observation led to further elucidation of the NO/cGMP signalling pathway and development of PDE5-inhibitors as a first-line therapy in ED (5).

For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.

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.


There are blood pressure medications that do not cause erectile dysfunction (ED). Some older blood pressure medications, especially beta blockers and thiazide diuretics, are the most likely to cause ED as a side effect. Better options include calcium channel blockers, which lower high blood pressure through a different mechanism. Don't just go off your medications, though; high blood pressure itself is a common cause of ED, so lowering your blood pressure is an important part of your ED treatment plan. And if you stop taking your blood pressure medications 'cold turkey', your blood pressure could actually sky rocket, putting you at risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Work with your doctor on ways to lower your blood pressure without lowering your sex drive.
Ginkgo biloba. Known primarily as a treatment for cognitive decline, ginkgo has also been used to treat erectile dysfunction -- especially cases caused by the use of certain antidepressant medications. But the evidence isn't very convincing. One 1998 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that it did work. But a more rigorous study, published in Human Pharmacology in 2002, failed to replicate this finding. "Ginkgo has come out of fashion in the past few years," says Ronald Tamler, MD, assistant professor of medicine and codirector of the men's health program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "That's because it doesn't do much. I can say that in my practice, I have not seen ginkgo work -- ever."
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.
Montorsi P,  Ravagnani PM,  Galli S,  Rotatori F,  Veglia F,  Briganti A,  Salonia A,  Dehò F,  Rigatti P,  Montorsi F,  Fiorentini C. Association between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease. Role of coronary clinical presentation and extent of coronary vessels involvement: the COBRA trial, Eur Heart J , 2006, vol. 27 (pg. 2632-2639)https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehl142

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (29) | Google ScholarSee all References After controlling for diabetes mellitus, tobacco use, and hyperlipidemia, hypertension was not found to be an independent predictor of vasculogenic ED in 440 impotent men as measured by the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
Stream a variety of exercise routines to get you moving and motivated! GlucoseZone™ is a digital exercise program that provides you with personalized exercise guidance and support designed to help you achieve the diabetes and fitness results you want. American Diabetes Association members receive an exclusive discount on their GlucoseZone subscription when they sign up using their ADA member ID!
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
A similar situation develops in the fragile penile circulation. Any disturbance in nitric oxide production lowers the capacity to dilate penile arteries, impairing penile engorgement for erection. Release of nitric oxide is readily sabotaged by many conditions, including elevated levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, smoking, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and excessive consumption of dietary saturated fat.9 If an artery’s inner wall can’t produce nitric oxide, an abnormal constriction of the arteries to the penis follows, effectively choking off blood flow.
In men without cardiovascular disease, erectile dysfunction (ED) pills are very safe. The three rivals -- Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra -- have similar side effects, including headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, diarrhea, backache, and, in a few Viagra or Levitra users, temporary impaired color vision (men with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease, should check with their ophthalmologists before using these medications).
In diabetic patients who fail medical management of ED, penile implantation surgery remains a viable therapeutic option. In a recent review of 372 men who underwent implantation of a three-piece inflatable penile implant, 86% reported that the device was still functional 5 years after implantation, and 79% reported that they used the device at least twice monthly.59
Third, men with Diabetes need to control their blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is not under control, your body does not produce enough Nitric Oxide (NO) and vascular tissues don’t respond as effectively to NO. When enough blood flows into the penis, penile veins close off and block the blood from flowing out. This process results in an erection. If your body does not produce enough NO or if your penile tissues do not respond to NO, the pressure of the blood flowing into your penis is not sufficient to trap the blood, you penis will not get hard.
While all three forms of male sexual dysfunction can be found among diabetic men, this review will focus on the most common form, ED, because the literature is most mature in this area. Defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, ED is highly prevalent in diabetic men1 and is almost always organic in its etiology. Given that many patients feel that their ED is “in their heads” and that “their provider will dismiss any sexual problems they might bring up,”2 it may be a relief for patients to learn that their ED is physical, related to their diabetes, and treatable. To this end, the goal of this article is to review the epidemiology, pathophysiology, quality of life effect, and treatment of ED in men with type 2 diabetes.

The same device is considered a vacuum erectile device (VED), when it is used to increase inflow of the blood to the penis without a constriction band. Regular use of VED in post-prostatectomy patient increases penile oxygenation and is accepted as a valid option in penile rehabilitation. Recent study reported transient increase in oxygenation to the glans penis and corporal bodies were detected by oximetry after VED was applied, providing proof for possible role for VED to counter the early penile hypoxia, cavernosal fibrosis and long-term ED after radical prostatectomy (9).


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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
Pomegranate juice. Drinking antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Does pomegranate juice also protect against ED? No proof exists, but results of a study published in 2007 were promising. The authors of this small-scale pilot study called for additional research, saying that larger-scale studies might prove pomegranate juice's effectiveness against erectile dysfunction. "I tell my patients to drink it," says Espinosa. "It could help ED, and even if it doesn't, it has other health benefits."
Vacuum therapy devices have a few disadvantages. One must interrupt foreplay to use them. You must use the correct-size tension ring and remove it, to prevent penile bruising, after sustaining the erection for 30 minutes. Initial use may produce some soreness. Such devices may be unsuitable for men with certain bleeding disorders. In general, vacuum constriction devices are successful in management of long-term ED.
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.
What comes after an ED diagnosis in diabetic patients? Often, Dr. Eid will instantly refer these men to a cardiologist. “If a patient has diabetes and is newly diagnosed, a significant portion of these men are going to develop coronary artery disease in the next 2-3 years,” he said. “One of the things we do is recommend is that they see a cardiologist and perhaps have a stress test or some sort of evaluation.”
The truth is medication or psychosexual counselling are the first treatments a doctor will suggest because they’ve been proven to work. If a doctor has approved a medication for you then it’s safe. If you would still like to see if herbal supplements work for you, then there is a list below of supplements thought to work for erectile dysfunction. Just before you invest your money in them, remember they aren’t proven to work:
Erectile dysfunction usually precedes cardiovascular events by 3 to 5 years. Therefore, sexual function should be incorporated into cardiovascular disease risk assessment for all men. Recently, algorithms for the management of patients with erectile dysfunction according to the risk for sexual activity and future cardiovascular events were proposed[91]. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) will result in significant benefits on overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling will exert beneficial effects on the quality of life of hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction and will improve adherence to antihypertensive drug therapy[91].
Third, men with Diabetes need to control their blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is not under control, your body does not produce enough Nitric Oxide (NO) and vascular tissues don’t respond as effectively to NO. When enough blood flows into the penis, penile veins close off and block the blood from flowing out. This process results in an erection. If your body does not produce enough NO or if your penile tissues do not respond to NO, the pressure of the blood flowing into your penis is not sufficient to trap the blood, you penis will not get hard.
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.
The art of acupuncture has become the new treatment for everything from back pain, depression, and even ED. Impotence could be more of a state of mind, and acupuncture may help. Through this alternative therapy, fine needles are placed in various parts of the body to relieve pain or stress. Although there are many mixed studies for acupuncture and ED, many tend to confirm positive results. A 1999 study found acupuncture improved the quality of erection and even restored sexual activity in 39 percent of participants.

Most of the time, ED is the first symptom of poor cardiovascular health. Hypertension oftentimes doesn’t manifest outward symptoms of heart disease.  Some men go undiagnosed with high blood pressure for a long time. It can be troublesome for many men who feel uncomfortable discussing ED with their health providers. Many fail to seek medical advice and suffer from progressive worsening of their cardiovascular problems before deciding to undergo treatment.

There are two kinds of penis implants. One kind is a rigid but flexible rod implanted in the penis. You bend it up for sex or down for daily living. The other kind is an inflatable implant. The device stores fluid in a reservoir under the skin of your abdomen or scrotum. You press on the reservoir to pump fluid into cylinders in the penis. That creates an erection. A valve drains the fluid out of the penis when you're done.
There are many alternative treatments that may be used to treat erectile dysfunction, although their effectiveness hasn't been proven. Men may benefit from acupuncture to reduce stress and help treat erectile dysfunction. Some people claim that herbal supplements such as Korean red ginseng, ginkgo, and yohimbine may be helpful for treating erectile dysfunction. Other helpful supplements for treating erectile dysfunction may include DHEA (a hormone in testosterone) and L-arginine. However, it's important to remember that these and other supplements may actually contain harmful substances, so talk with your doctor before taking supplements for treating erectile dysfunction.
Based on this testing, EDDM patients were treated with behavioral therapy, intracavernosal (papaverine, PGE-1, or Trimix) or intraurethral PGE-1, a vacuum constriction device (VCD), or implantation of a penile prosthesis. Novel surgical procedures, ligation of incompetent cavernosal veins or penile revascularization, were seldom efficacious with EDDM and were soon abandoned. Although these nonsurgical therapies were efficacious, they were not widely requested because of their invasive or mechanical nature.
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Most cases of sexual dysfunction are related to a physical cause. The most common causes are diabetes, heart disease, neurological trauma or disease, and side effects of medications. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to impotence. While most of the focus has been on men with erectile dysfunction, a number of women also suffer from this disorder.
It’s crucial that any underlying medical condition, such as angina or diabetes, is detected. So if you’re experiencing problems with ED, book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will assess and examine you to try to establish the cause of the problem, and may refer you for tests. Don’t take any medicine for ED without first discussing it with your doctor.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References Of 1774 patients with a history of myocardial infarction, only 2 who had experienced a myocardial infarction after sexual intercourse were able to exercise to at least 6 METs without symptoms.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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (42) | Google ScholarSee all References Apomorphine does not appear to have any notable cardiovascular adverse effects and has been used successfully in Europe. However, apomorphine use has been associated with other unpleasant adverse effects such as nausea and emesis, and the drug has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (124) | Google ScholarSee all References This was a doubleblind, single-dose crossover study involving 41 men with stable coronary artery disease characterized by reproducible stable exertional angina. After taking either 10 mg of vardenafil or placebo, these men underwent treadmill exercise tolerance testing to 5 to 10 METs. Compared with placebo, vardenafil use did not result in a change in exercise treadmill time or time to first awareness of angina but significantly increased the time to ischemic threshold. At peak exercise levels, vardenafil did not cause a change in either heart rate or blood pressure level. This study concluded that 10 mg of vardenafil did not impair the ability of men with stable coronary artery disease to exercise at levels consistent with the exertion associated with sexual intercourse.
In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.
Penile Injection Medication: This is just what it sounds like. Injected at home directly into the penis, the medication alprostadil produces erection by relaxing certain muscles, increasing blood flow into the penis and restricting outflow. Although some sources report an 80 percent success rate, the therapy has disadvantages, such as risks of infection, pain, and scarring—fibrosis—in the penis, and it may also cause priapism. A popular version of this medication is Upjohn Corporation’s Caverject. The MUSE System, by VIVUS, involves the same medicine (a pellet of alprostadil) applied with an eye-dropper-like applicator, directly into the urethra.
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