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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (72) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that the mean PSV was a better predictor of the presence of cardiovascular disease than stratification by standard cardiac risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, and smoking. The researchers recommended that persons with no history of prior perineal trauma and with a PSV lower than 35 mL/s should undergo exercise testing before receiving treatment of ED because these patients had a 42% risk of having ischemic heart disease. However, other investigators questioned the utility of using penile arterial flow to predict the presence of ischemic heart disease.18x18Chiu, AW, Chen, KK, Chen, MT, Chang, LS, and Chang, MS. Penile brachial index in impotent patients with coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 1991; 19: 213–216

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Risk of arrythmias after sexual intercourse was evaluated in 82 patients with stable coronary artery disease who were monitored with ambulatory ECG after sexual intercourse.81x81Drory, Y, Fisman, EZ, Shapira, Y, and Pines, A. Ventricular arrhythmias during sexual activity in patients with coronary artery disease. Chest. 1996; 109: 922–924
Ginseng is the most common ingredient among top-selling supplements for men’s sexual health (36). The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen. Ren means “person” and shen means “plant root”. This plant has been named in this manner as its roots resemble the lower limbs of a human, Traditionally, ginseng has been used to restore and enhance the normal well-being of the body. The effects are due to ginseng’s reactions with the central nervous system, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular system. The principal active compounds are triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Animal studies have suggested that specific ginsenosides may be responsible for ginseng-mediated effects on copulatory behavior (37). Ginsenoside induces smooth muscle relaxation by hyperpolarizing the smooth muscle membrane via activation of large-conductance KCa channels (38).
27. Haahr MK, Jensen CH, Toyserkani NM, et al. Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine 2016;5:204-10. 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.01.024 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef]
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with vascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart disease, and hyperlipidemia) had significantly decreased peak systolic velocities and increased end-diastolic velocities. Patients with diabetes mellitus had increased end-diastolic velocities and decreased resistive indices, indicating a disorder of venous trapping during erections. Another study examined corpora cavernosal tissue removed at penile prosthesis placement in 21 diabetic men and 42 nondiabetic controls.23x23Saenz de Tejada, I, Goldstein, I, Azadzoi, K, Krane, RJ, and Cohen, RA. Impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of penile smooth muscle from diabetic men with impotence. N Engl J Med. 1989; 320: 1025–1030
Unlike intraurethral suppositories, intracavernosal injection (IC) injection of vasoactive agents such as PGE-1 has consistently been shown to be effective in the treatment of ED in men with diabetes. In a study of 336 men with diabetes-related ED, 83% of patients reported erections satisfactory for intercourse after IC injection of PGE-1.55 Unfortunately, 24% of these patients also reported penile pain, one of the most common side effects of IC injection therapy. Other studies have noted similar effectiveness rates.56,57
Erectile dysfunction supplements and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and avanafil (Stendra), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well-studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (395) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil has no effect on bleeding time or prothrombin time when used either alone or in patients taking aspirin or warfarin.61x61Nehra, A, Colreavy, F, Khandheria, BK, and Chandrasekaran, K. Sildenafil citrate, a selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor: urologic and cardiovascular implications. World J Urol. 2001; 19: 40–45
Three FDA-approved oral medications, sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil are available. These drugs are phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors that can prolong levels of cGMP in tissue allowing improved smooth muscle relaxation, thus facilitating an erection. PDE-5 inhibitor drugs are effective in 56-63% of diabetic men with ED. More stringent glycemic control can improve these results. Men with testosterone deficiency may benefit from a combination of oral ED medication and testosterone supplementation.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that, although hypertensive patients had more coronary artery disease, no direct evidence supported an association between hypertension and arteriogenic impotence, as measured by the PBI, peak systolic velocity, and resistive index, in patients with mild to moderate hypertension.
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
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.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Overall, sexual intercourse does not lead to an extremely exaggerated heart rate or blood pressure level when performed in a familiar setting with one's usual partner.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999

The medications used to treat high blood pressure do not take into account the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, as their intention is to lower the blood pressure to a more manageable state, reducing the stress put on blood vessels. High blood pressure and ED are seen as separate entities, with the former taking priority for pharmaceutical treatment. This means that the medications used might do nothing to cure erectile dysfunction and may, in fact, prolong it. Medications that lower blood pressure might actually cause a low blood pressure state in the groin area and the arteries supplying the penis, making it near impossible to achieve an erection. The following are examples of such medications:
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).

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, affecting almost 40% of men over 40 years of age (with varying degrees of severity) and increases in frequency with age.1 Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease (CVD) share common risk factors including age, hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, insulin resistance and diabetes, smoking, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sedentary lifestyle, and depression.2 Cardiovascular disease and ED also share a common pathophysiological basis of aetiology and progression.3 Numerous studies have established that ED (i) is frequent in men with established CVD, (ii) co-exists with occult coronary artery disease (CAD) and (iii) is an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular (CV) events both in men with established CVD and in men with no known CVD.2,4,5 In the latter group, ED precedes CAD, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease by a significant period that usually ranges from 2 to 5 years (average 3 years).2 Although the ED patient can be managed by various medical specialties, and preferably a collaborative approach is most effective, this review is oriented to the cardiologist. While this review deals exclusively with sexual health of men, female sexual health and its potential relation with CVD is also an interesting, yet underexplored, field. As in men, moderating common risk factors seems to improve female sexual health and may serve as an opportunity to decrease CVD risk, with the identification of sexual dysfunction being the starting point.6

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PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References A dose-related phenomenon with propranolol use was suggested by another study, which showed that patients receiving propranolol dosages exceeding 120 mg/d developed ED at a higher rate than patients who received lower dosages of the same medication.43x43Warren, SC and Warren, SG. Propranolol and sexual impotence [letter]. Ann Intern Med. 1977; 86: 112
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.

Erectile dysfunction is very common as men age. Erectile dysfunction is frequently a sign of atherosclerosis, a clogging or narrowing of the blood vessels that causes heart attacks. Erectile dysfunction usually comes 3 to 5 years before a heart attack, so after ED is diagnosed, there is time to treat atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack. Treating atherosclerosis involves diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary. Talk with your doctor about a broken sex life, and you might be able to prevent a broken heart.


Side effects of sildenafil are similar to those from taking niacin or any vasodilator, namely, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, and flushing. Some individuals experience a bluish tinge of their cornea, which makes them feel as if they are wearing light blue–tinted sunglasses. This effect can last for several hours. Syncope and myocardial infarction, the most serious side effects, are seen in men who are also taking nitrates for coronary heart disease. Sildenafil also has adverse effects in people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy because a decrease in preload and after load in the cardiac output can increase the outflow obstruction, culminating in an unstable hemodynamic state.

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others.The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.


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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277

Medications used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, especially antihypertensive medications, have been implicated frequently in the development of sexual dysfunction. A study of 5485 patients in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program found that, during a 5-year period, 8.3% of male hypertensive patients stopped taking their antihypertensive medications secondary to sexual adverse effects.35x35Curb, JD, Borhani, NO, Blaszkowski, TP, Zimbaldi, N, Fotiu, S, and Williams, W. Long-term surveillance for adverse effects of antihypertensive drugs. JAMA. 1985; 253: 3263–3268
Age is a critical risk factor for the development of ED and endothelial dysfunction.4,5 ED is the most common condition occurring in middle-aged and older men.5 Kinsey et al. reported that 25 % of 65-year-old men and 75 % of ≥80-year-old men have ED.39 Moreover, ageing also decreases endothelial function, which is responsible for IHD.5 The incidence and severity of ED increases with age (a man aged 70 years is three-times more likely to have ED than a man aged 40 years).40
 Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED. 
While Western medicine emphases the link between cardiovascular function and ED, TCM places importance on liver and kidney ailments as causative factor for development of ED. Western medicine involves a step-wise approach by targeting the relevant organ systems to treat various clinical symptoms; but TCM focuses on restoring the balance between various organs to achieve harmony and holistic approach to inner sense (4). The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western medicine and TCM (see Table 1).
The second way relates to the risk associated with the sexual activity in a patient with either overt or occult CVD. In this case, the diagnosis of ED should prompt an initial cardiovascular assessment based on the history and clinical examination in order to define the baseline risk according to (i) the likelihood of silent CAD18,31 (especially since ED patients have a high probability to have silent CAD) or to the stage of clinically evident CAD, (ii) other cardiovascular conditions either unrelated, or related to ED (e.g. heart failure, peripheral arterial disease).
However, population-based studies of ED in prostate cancer survivors also document that ED has a negative effect on general health. Penson, et al.36 studied HRQOL in 2,306 prostate cancer survivors 2 years after their diagnosis. They noted that men with ED (defined as erections that were insufficient for sexual intercourse) had significantly worse general HRQOL when compared to prostate cancer survivors who were potent. Importantly, this association remained in a multivariate analysis that controlled for 31 other potential confounding variables. Finally, this association was noted in both the physical and mental domains of general quality of life, indicating that ED has a much broader effect on quality of life than one might expect.

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.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of relevant studies in this field confirmed that erectile dysfunction is associated with increased risk of CV events and all-cause mortality[89]. The pooled relative risks were 1.44 (95%CI: 1.27-1.63) for total CV events, 1.19 (95%CI: 0.97-1.46) for CV mortality, 1.62 (95%CI: 1.34-1.96) for myocardial infarction, 1.39 (95%CI: 1.23-1.57) for cerebrovascular events, and 1.25 (95%CI: 1.12-1.39) for all-cause mortality, for men with vs without erectile dysfunction. Of note, the relative risk was higher in intermediate-compared with high- or low-CV-risk populations and with younger age, with obvious clinical implications. Interestingly, the relative risks were higher when erectile dysfunction was diagnosed with the use of a questionnaire compared with a single question (RR = 1.61; 95%CI: 1.38-1.86 vs RR = 1.27; 95%CI: 1.18-1.37, respectively; P = 0.006).
In years past, before nitric oxide and its role in the erectile response was appreciated, testosterone was used to treat sexual dysfunction in men. It proved a partial success as a standalone therapy, resulting in improved erectile potency in 40–60% of men with low-to-normal testosterone levels. The likelihood of success increased, however, if starting testosterone levels were low (usually defined as below 300 ng/dL), in which case improved erections were experienced by as many as 65% of men, compared with 16.7% receiving placebo; topical testosterone preparations were also noted to be superior to oral replacement or injections.21 These findings were confirmed by another study that showed testosterone produced modest improvements in erectile function and libido in men with low-to-normal testosterone levels.22
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.
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
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References During a 9-year follow-up study of 513 of these men who had no ED at the first study, the risk of new-onset ED was analyzed.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 (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Originally evaluated as a mild preload reducer and antianginal agent in its early phases of development, sildenafil's effect on male and female genitalia became quickly apparent.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N


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.


Because ED has several causes, sorting out exactly what is causing your problem may take some time. First, make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are using, including over-the-counter or herbal products. Drugs frequently used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and peptic ulcers can all cause ED. But don’t stop taking any of your medications without first talking to your doctor.
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.
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
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
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include diabetes mellitus, obesity, physical inactivity, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use, and hypertension. Often, the relative risk of each of these factors in the development of ED is difficult to assess because many patients with ED and cardiovascular disease have more than 1 risk factor. Another important consideration is the effect of cardiac disease itself on erectile function. A history of a prior myocardial infarction was not found to be a significant independent risk factor for ED in a study comparing sexual function in 50 patients who had a prior myocardial infarction with a control group of 50 patients.14x14Dhabuwala, CB, Kumar, A, and Pierce, JM. Myocardial infarction and its influence on male sexual function. Arch Sex Behav. 1986; 15: 499–504
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

The bad news: Men with diabetes are three times more likely to report having problems with sex than non-diabetic men. The most common sexual problem is Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, sometimes called impotence. Even worse, because ED is such a private issue, many men feel embarrassed to discuss the problem with their doctor, or even their partner, so the problem is never addressed.

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