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).
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.

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The wide range of prevalence rates noted among the studies can be attributed to a number of factors. First, prevalence rates are affected by the sensitivity and specificity of methods used to assess ED.1 In addition, a number of these studies used medical record review to identify patients with ED, as opposed to anonymous patient reports. It has been shown in other disease states that patients tend to underreport ED when questioned directly by their providers.3 Therefore, the use of validated questionnaires that are either self-administered in an anonymous, neutral setting or administered by an objective third-party interviewer are preferred.


Luckily, awareness of ED as a significant and common complication of diabetes has increased in recent years, mainly because of increasing knowledge of male sexual function and the rapidly expanding armamentarium of novel treatments being developed for impotence. Studies of ED suggest that its prevalence in men with diabetes ranges from 35–75% versus 26% in general population. The onset of ED also occurs 10–15 years earlier in men with diabetes than it does in sex-matched counterparts without diabetes.
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References In a prospective review of 3250 men aged 26 to 83 years without ED at their first examination, total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels were found to be strongly predictive of onset of ED after controlling for age, diabetes mellitus, stress level, cardiovascular disease, and prostate disease.25x25Wei, M, Macera, CA, Davis, DR, Hornung, CA, Nankin, HR, and Blair, SN. Total cholesterol and high density lipoprotein cholesterol as important predictors of erectile dysfunction. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 930–937

The phrase “use it before you lose it” can be applied when it comes to helping men with ED regain normal erectile function. Pelvic exercises, more commonly known as kegel exercises, are used to promote urinary continence and sexual health. They help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, it pumps during ejaculation, and it helps empty the urethra after urination, according to Healthline.


Erectile dysfunction is common in the patient with cardiovascular disease. It is an important component of the quality of life and it also confers an independent risk for future cardiovascular events. The usual 3-year time period between the onset of erectile dysfunction symptoms and a cardiovascular event offers an opportunity for risk mitigation. Thus, sexual function should be incorporated into cardiovascular disease risk assessment for all men. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) improves overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling improves the quality of life and increases adherence to medication. This review explores the critical connection between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease and evaluates how this relationship may influence clinical practice. Algorithms for the management of patient with erectile dysfunction according to the risk for sexual activity and future cardiovascular events are proposed.
The most important way to protect your heart is to eat a Nutritarian diet and that means eating your G-BOMBS: greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. Natural plant foods have numerous cardio-protective effects. For example, greens activate the Nrf2 system, which turns on natural detoxification mechanisms and protects blood vessels against inflammatory processes that lead to atherosclerotic plaque buildup.9

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
Cardiovascular disease and ED represent 2 common disease processes that are often intimately associated with one another. These common pathophysiological links necessitate a solid scientific and clinical understanding of these 2 disorders and a team effort between the cardiologist and urologist to provide effective management strategies for these patients.
Diabetes occurs when you have too much sugar circulating in your bloodstream. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, which affects less than 10 percent of those who have diabetes, and type 2 diabetes, which accounts for over 90 percent of diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes often develops as a result of being overweight or inactive. Approximately 30 million Americans have diabetes, and about half of them are men.

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:

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.
The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72
Despite physician’s inexperience and patient’s reluctance to disclose sexual dysfunction problems, attempts to estimate the magnitude of this clinical condition have predicted that over 150 million men worldwide experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. Several studies have demonstrated a wide range regarding the prevalence of erectile dysfunction, which is even higher in patients with essential hypertension where the relative risk is approximately two times higher than in normotensive individuals[6-11]. The etiology can be found in the structural and functional abnormalities of the penile arteries induced by high blood pressure. Smooth muscle hypertrophy, stenotic lesions due to atherosclerosis and impaired blood flow are among the prominent structural alterations whereas endothelial dysfunction and the defective nitric oxide-induced vasodilatory mechanism belong to the main functional abnormalities induced by increased blood pressure[12,13]. As a matter of fact, sexual dysfunction is encountered more frequently that it is indeed believed underlining the need for a more proper and concrete assessment.
Sexual problems might mean you have a broken heart, literally. The most common sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED affects up to 30 million men in the United States. Surprisingly, ED might be a sign of heart problems. It is important to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Not only can your doctor prescribe medications to improve sexual function, but together you may be able to prevent a major heart problem like a heart attack. This article outlines the steps that you should take if you think you have ED.
There are other treatment options for erectile dysfunction (ED). Alprostadil is a medication that improves blood flow to the penis and improves erections. It can be given either by injection (Caverject and other brands) at the base of the penis or by putting an alprostadil gel (brand name MUSE) directly into the urethra, using a thin tube and a little lubricant so it slides in easily. The medicine is absorbed from the lining of the urethra into the surrounding tissues. The shot is less appealing to most people, of course, but more effective.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (443) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin and other NO donors work through the same NO-cGMP pathway that sildenafil affects, thereby decreasing vascular resistance and blood pressure level.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 | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F
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.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (528) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil also has good efficacy in patients with ischemic heart disease, as shown by a retrospective subanalysis of data from 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies involving 3672 patients with ED and ischemic heart disease who were not taking nitrates.59x59Kloner, RA. Cardiovascular risk and sildenafil. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 57F–61F
airdone/ShutterstockErectile dysfunction (ED) is a serious issue for men, which helps explain all the prescription drugs, over-the-counter treatments, and herbal concoctions that claim to cure ED. (In fact, it’s one of the top nine health risks men need to watch out for.) But before any guy decides to take matters into his own hands, he should talk to his doctor about a heart checkup: A new study published in the journal Vascular Medicine suggests ED can signal cardiovascular concerns.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS 9-year follow-up study has shown that a body mass index of 28 kg/m2 or higher was an independent predictor for ED, with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.96.5x5Feldman, 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
Core tip: The prevalence of erectile dysfunction is approximately 2-fold higher in hypertensive patients compared to normotensive individuals. However, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients. Lifestyle modification should be the mainstay of treating erectile dysfunction in patients with untreated hypertension. Switching antihypertensive therapy should be considered in treated hypertensive patients, unless administered drugs are absolutely indicated for the individual patient. Otherwise, phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors should be used, since they are both effective and safe in hypertensive patients. Finally, erectile dysfunction offers the opportunity to recognize asymptomatic cardiovascular disease with obvious benefits for cardiovascular event prevention.
The pilot study by Vardi et al. (18) showed that LIESWT was effective in treating men with ED, suggesting a physiologic impact of LIESWT on cavernosal hemodynamics. The LIESWT is an effective penile rehabilitation tool that improves erectile function and potentially reverses underlying ED. Recent meta-analysis (19) of 14 studies showed that LiESWT could significantly improve the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) [mean difference: 2.00; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.99–3.00; P<0.0001] and Erection Hardness Score (EHS) (risk difference: 0.16; 95% CI, 0.04–0.29; P=0.01). In addition, the therapeutic efficacy was noted to last for at least 3 months. LiESWT has been cited to a potential cure for ED, unlike other well established non-surgical methods of treatment (i.e., PDE5i, ICI and VED) being on demand treatments.

Having your current medication checked – if you are taking medication already, it could be that your erection problems are a side effect. Have a doctor check whether this is the cause of your problems and if it is, you might be able to switch medications and then find that your erectile dysfunction goes away completely – or at least improves. Medications that can cause erection problems include:


A significant proportion (ranging from ∼60 to 90%) of heart failure patients report ED and marked decrease in sexual interest, with ultimately one-quarter reporting cessation of sexual activity altogether.48 Erectile dysfunction contributes further to the poor quality of life and aggravates depression. Of interest, many heart failure patients place a greater importance on improving the quality of life (including sexual activity) than on improving survival. Sexual function correlates with the symptomatic status (i.e. NYHA functional class and 6-minute walk test).48 In the Evaluation of Role of Sexual Dysfunction in the Saarland (EROSS) Program, left ventricular dysfunction was a risk factor for ED independent of heart failure symptoms. While heart failure and ED share common pre-disposing risk factors, heart failure by itself can cause ED or affect engagement to sexual activity. Neurohumoral activation, medication (thiazides), limited exercise capacity, and depression are responsible.49
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (1528) | Google ScholarSee all References After sexual intercourse, this risk increases approximately 2-fold, to 2 chances per million per hour, but only for the 2 hours after intercourse. For low-risk patients with no history of cardiovascular disease and an annual myocardial infarction risk of 1% per year, the risk increases to 1.01% with weekly sexual activity.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
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
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
These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
The number of men reporting improvement was at 88% during the study. The number of men involved in the study who reported impotence dropped from 75.3 % to 11.8%. The results of this study raise hope for men who have quit taking other blood pressure medications because they interfered with sexual function. Sexual dysfunction was defined for the study as decreased libido, impotence and poor sexual satisfaction.
Table 3 is a suggested algorithm for the assessment of patients and their further categorization and handling. There are parts of investigation that are common for patients both with and without CVD, while additional elements of investigation are helpful in categorizing the patient without CVD to the appropriate risk category. Determination of exercise ability and stress testing is crucial to the assessment (see also below ‘Exercise ability: the risk of sexual activity’). Patients without established CVD or diabetes should be evaluated for their risk of future events according to risk scores (SCORE or Framingham). Patients with established CVD or diabetes are by default considered at increased risk. Patients with adequate exercise ability or a negative stress test can initiate or resume sexual activity and begin treatment for ED. In patients with a positive stress test or in high-risk patients, sexual activity should be deferred until the cardiac condition has been treated and stabilized. In all cases, patient follow-up and reassessment is recommended.
Experimental hyperglycemia may also affect cavernosal smooth muscle cell contractile responses. In experimental diabetes, penile smooth muscle has augmented force responses to vaconstrictors, possibly mediated by changes in expression of protein kinase C and the RhoA-Rho kinase Ca2+-sensitization pathway.32 These changes may promote flaccidity and alter the relaxation responses to nitric oxide. End-stage penile dysfunction may occur as a result of diabetes, with progressive loss of normal cavernosal endothelium and smooth muscle cells from the corpus cavernosum.33 Replacement by fibrotic tissue may lead to complete erectile failure.34
As a primary care doctor, my most important job is to tailor treatment for my patients while still making decisions based on the medical literature. So when patients tell me their treatment is causing undesired side effects—like ED—I work with them to create a plan to treat the condition while also finding a way to relieve those side effects. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with medically induced ED.
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

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Almost every class of antihyper-tensive medication has been implicated in causing ED; however, most of these studies, published as case reports or patient surveys, have been relatively subjective and uncontrolled.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
There are no studies specifically assessing the effectiveness of intraurethral suppositories of prostaglandin E1 (PGE-1) in diabetic men. A single randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of this agent in the general population of men with ED documented that 60% of those who tried this agent were able to achieve successful sexual intercourse.53 Unfortunately, in clinical practice, this agent appears to be considerably less effective.54
*** High-risk patients include those with unstable or refractory angina pectoris, uncontrolled hypertension, congestive heart failure (NYHA class IV), recent myocardial infarction without intervention (<2 weeks), high-risk arrhythmia (exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia, implanted internal cardioverter defibrillator with frequent shocks, and poorly controlled atrial fibrillation), obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with severe symptoms, and moderate to severe valve disease, particularly aortic stenosis.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitrates have only modest antianginal effects and offer no prognostic benefit for mild recurrent angina or unstable angina. Therefore, such anginal symptoms occurring after sildenafil use should be treated with other nonnitrate antianginal agents such as β-blockers.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N
The wide range of prevalence rates noted among the studies can be attributed to a number of factors. First, prevalence rates are affected by the sensitivity and specificity of methods used to assess ED.1 In addition, a number of these studies used medical record review to identify patients with ED, as opposed to anonymous patient reports. It has been shown in other disease states that patients tend to underreport ED when questioned directly by their providers.3 Therefore, the use of validated questionnaires that are either self-administered in an anonymous, neutral setting or administered by an objective third-party interviewer are preferred.
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

Ginkgo is an herb that’s been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments. This supplement may improve penile blood flow. Additionally, some reports suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk. This makes it particularly dangerous for people using blood thinners. Other studies, including one from 2011, found no evidence of increased bleeding while using ginkgo.
Although the results provide evidence that PDE5 inhibitors may benefit heart health, the retrospective study design makes it impossible to ascertain direct cause and effect, Andersson noted. It is possible that using erectile dysfunction drugs simply indicates a more active sex life, which could itself contribute to, or be a marker of, a heart-healthy lifestyle overall.
Erections are extremely complicated and surprisingly fragile. Erections involve chemical signals, nerve impulses, complicated blood pressure changes, and overall fitness in systems ranging from your heart and hormones to your mood. When medication changes how one of these factors works—like blood pressure drops or depression medication—ED is a common side effect. The problem with these completely predictable medically induced side effects is how people react.
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.
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