The natural history of ED in people with diabetes is normally gradual and does not occur overnight. Both vascular and neurological mechanisms are most commonly involved in people with diabetes. Atherosclerosis in the penile and pudendal arteries limits the blood flow into the corpus cavernosum. Because of the loss of compliance in the cavernous trabeculae, the venous flow is also lost. This loss of flow results in the inability of the corpora cavernosae to expand and compress the outflow vessels.
Not surprisingly, they found that diabetic patients rated kidney disease and blindness as the two most important complications of their condition. Diabetic men with ED ranked ED as the third most important complication of diabetes, followed on average in order by foot ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraine headaches, sleeping disorders, and mild indigestion. Diabetic men without ED found ED slightly less important, ranking it behind foot ulcers and high blood pressure, although all three were grouped fairly close together (mean ranks were 4.59, 4.23, and 4.52, respectively). Interestingly, in men both with and without ED, subjects were willing to pay more per month to avoid ED than all other conditions except blindness and kidney disease (mean values for diabetic patients with ED were £50.5, £88.0, and £66.1, respectively). In summary, erectile function is important to diabetic men, and when ED is present, it has a significant negative effect on quality of life.
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.

If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References All these men had ED and twice underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle exercise echocardiography 1 hour after taking either sildenafil (50 mg or 100 mg) or placebo. This study found no significant changes in resting heart rate, diastolic blood pressure level, or wall motion score index, and the exercise capacity of the 2 groups was similar. Both groups had similar numbers of patients who experienced dyspnea and/or chest pain, had a positive exercise echocardiographic test, and had exercise-induced wall motion abnormalities. Sildenafil caused a mean decrease of 7 mm Hg in the resting systolic blood pressure level compared with the placebo group. In conclusion, this study showed that in patients with stable coronary artery disease, sildenafil caused no change in symptoms, exercise endurance, or presence/extent of exercise-induced ischemia as measured by exercise echocardiography.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References, 73x73Rajagopalan, P, Mazzu, A, Xia, C, Dawkins, R, and Sundaresan, P. Effect of high-fat breakfast and moderate-fat evening meal on the pharmacokinetics of vardenafil, an oral phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. J Clin Pharmacol. 2003; 43: 260–267

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


With great interest we have read the recently published review by Vlachopoulos et al, a very detailed and extensive overview of erectile dysfunction in the cardiovascular patients. Guidelines for the management of erectile dysfunction with heart failure were noted, as well as advice about dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED) in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, many others have written similar reviews and guideline concerning the care for ED as well as (female) sexual dysfunction in CAD in the past years (1-4), cardiologists should be familiar with this matter by now. The problem is the actual translation of this knowledge into actions in cardiologists' daily clinical practice. Our research group performed a survey among Dutch cardiologists, aiming to evaluate their inquiry about erectile function in day-to-day practice, to detect their attitude towards this discussion and their perceived barriers for addressing sexual activity. Results from this survey indicated that cardiologists (n=414) did not routinely discuss erectile dysfunction: 48.7% indicated to discuss sexual function 'sometimes' and only 16.9% said to discuss the subject regularly. Of respondents, 41.5% marked that care for patients' sexual quality of life is not their responsibility. Nevertheless, 42% indicated that they would benefit from training to obtain knowledge about treatment of erectile and sexual dysfunction in cardiologic patients. Barriers not to inquire about sexual activity included 'the patient does not ask about it' (53.7%), 'I do not have an angle or motive to start about it'(45.9%), as well as time constraints (42.9%) and lack of training in dealing with sexual dysfunction (35.2%). The more experienced the cardiologist was the less he/she stated the need for training or for a referral directory(5). Since all cardiologists should, meanwhile, know that ED is part of their responsibility, as it is a sentinel marker of CVD(6). It is now case to pay attention to the implementation of the care for erectile and other sexual dysfunction in the cardiology practice. Our study suggests that physicians' experience in the field plays an important role in discussing sexual activity and that sexual healthcare can be improved with more education about the subject. Furthermore a directory of the available healthcare professionals for the referral of patients with sexual dysfunction was indicated as mandatory. We suggest that attention of cardiologists should not only be focused on writing about ED and CVD, attention should be diverted to the actual implementation of care for patients with ED as well, in order to improve patient-centered healthcare in cardiology.
Taking one of these tablets will not automatically produce an erection. Sexual stimulation is needed first to cause the release of nitric oxide from your penile nerves. These medications amplify that signal, allowing some men to function normally. Oral erectile dysfunction medications are not aphrodisiacs, will not cause excitement and are not needed in men who get normal erections.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “because erectile dysfunction is caused by a complex set of psychosocial, neurologic, and vascular factors, a specific cause in a patient may remain ambiguous.” The root causes are often related to a blockage or dysfunction of blood vessels. For example, ED can be due to conditions like atherosclerosis or diabetes, hormonal imbalances or problems related to mental health. It’s been found that common causes typically include one or more of the following factors: (2)
Relaxation of erectile tissue requires nitric oxide from nonadrenergic-noncholinergic neurons and the endothelium.21 Penile tissue from diabetic men with ED demonstrates impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of smooth muscle,22 increased accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs),23 and upregulation arginase, a competitor with nitric oxide synthase for its substrate L-arginine.24 Normal responses to direct smooth muscle relaxants in most of these studies implies that the impairments are due to decreased synthesis, release, or activity of nitric oxide. The fundamental mechanisms mediating these changes are thought to be the same as for other diabetic complications: increased polyol pathway flux, intracellular accumulation of AGEs, activation of protein kinase C, and increased flux through the hexosamine pathway.25
Now that we better appreciate the complex sequence of events necessary for erections to occur, it’s no surprise that testosterone alone yields less than perfect results. Erectile dysfunction represents more than just low testosterone, which is just one facet of the spectrum of dysfunctional phenomena that cause sexual dysfunction. Nonetheless, when testosterone is combined with popular drugs like Viagra®, success is enhanced to an even greater degree—orgasmic function improves, along with erectile capacity and libido.20 Testosterone also activates penile nitric oxide; ultrasound studies have demonstrated a 27% increase in arterial blood flow into the penis with testosterone supplementation.23

Other factors that “stress” the body can also increase your risk for ED. These include: substance abuse, using marijuana, smoking cigarettes, depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Cigarette smoking — or using nicotine — leads to constricted blood vessels, which has negative effects for sexual health. Other mental/emotional obstacles can cause less desire for sex and decrease testosterone. Several ways to help manage stress include:
A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the effects of untreated erectile dysfunction, or conversely, the effect of having an active sex life without taking erectile dysfunction drugs. The researchers also were unable to account for socioeconomic status; as a next step, they are planning a larger study that will include more health records and complete information on marital status, educational level and disposable income. They are also pursuing a separate analysis of outcomes from erectile dysfunction drugs in men with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
After getting a diagnosis of ED, most patients can begin treatment right away, but treatment may be delayed for some patients until the health of the heart is more fully assessed or improved. The most common treatment for ED is a pill (phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor; PDE5-I): Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or Levitra (vardenafil). Each of these pills improves erections when taken before sexual activity; alternatively, a low dose of Cialis can be taken once a day. These medicines work by allowing the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis to dilate better during sexual stimulation. The PDE5-Is decrease blood pressure a little bit, but they are safe with most other medications and with other blood pressure pills. The PDE5-Is are not safe with nitrate medications like nitroglycerin, Nitrostat, Nitro Paste, Imdur, isosorbide mononitrate, and Isordil. Mixing a PDE5-I with a nitrate medication could result in severely low blood pressure and even death. Inform all medical professionals (including the ambulance or emergency department) about your most recent ED pill ingestion so that nitrates can be avoided. If you have high blood pressure or benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate) and take medicines called α-blockers, your doctor may need to start you on the lowest dose of the PDE5-I.
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
Evaluation of functional capacity is the mainstay for the management of patients with ED.30 However, it should be kept in mind that in men with heart failure sexual activity may affect the heart differently from physical activity of similar METS due to differences in psychological anticipation and sympathetic activation.30,49 Cardiac echocardiography may offer valuable information for left ventricular performance and valvular function. For risk categories of heart failure patients and their management, please refer to Table 3 and Figure 5.
Ischaemic heart disease (IHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a predominant manifestation of cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, accounting for 17.3 million deaths globally every year; this figure is expected to grow to 23.6 million by the year 2030. Eighty per cent of these deaths occur in lower- and middle-income countries.5 ED and IHD are highly prevalent and occur concomitantly because they share the same risk factors, including diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, obesity and smoking.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (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
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine's effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects. Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor's supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Avoiding sexual activity between 6 AM and noon may be recommended to higher-risk patients because this is the time of peak incidence of most arrhythmias, myocardial ischemia, sudden cardiac death, and cerebrovascular accidents.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N

When antihypertensive medication comes to the fore, certain issues need to be carefully addressed. This is due to the fact that medically induced erectile dysfunction is one of the major reasons for non-adherence and treatment discontinuation, a reality that could have deleterious consequences on patient’s cardiovascular profile and health quality in the long term[38,39].

Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530

We need to keep in mind that angioplasty and bypass surgery have some significant adverse outcomes, including heart attacks, stroke and death. These invasive procedures only attempt to treat a small segment of the diseased heart, usually with only a temporary benefit. The patients treated with angioplasty and bypass will continue to experience progressive disability and most often die a premature death as a result of their heart disease.

Erectile dysfunction started to become a household term after scientists discovered a drug to treat it. Nowadays, as anyone who watches TV can attest, there are several different medications for ED. Fifty to 70 percent of men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes respond to a class of drugs—including sildenafil (Viagra), var­denafil hydrochloride (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis)—called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors.
ED is generally associated with significant changes in established cardiovascular risk factors. Atherosclerosis is the main cause of ED development in both the general population and patients with diabetes. However, the prevalence of ED is greater in patients with diabetes than in the general population.8 ED has been shown to occur at rates as high as 50 % in patients with CAD.9 A meta-analysis of 12 prospective cohort studies has provided evidence that ED is a predictor of IHD associated with an increased risk of CVD, stroke and all-cause mortality.10
Smoking is an independent risk factor for ED. Tobacco smoking causes direct toxicity to endothelial cells, including decreased eNOS activity, increased adhesion expression and impaired regulation of thrombotic factors.6 A meta-analysis of 19 studies by Tengs and Osgood suggested that 40 % of the impotent men studied were current smokers compared with 28 % who had never smoked.49
The initial event for normal erectile function is sexual stimulation. Subsequent to processing in the central nervous system neural impulses are conveyed along the spinal cord, exiting through the pelvic parasympathetic preganglionic nerves. These pelvic nerves form the pelvic plexus and send their message through first messenger, acetyl choline, to the cavernosal nerves. The cavernosal nerves enter erectile bodies (corpora cavernosa) (Figure 1). Here, their nerve endings release a second messenger, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide activates the enzyme guanylyl cyclase, which lyses guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to produce a third messenger, the intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Ultimately, the result is a decrease of intracellular calcium and an opening of potassium channels with the resultant relaxation of vascular smooth muscle in the arteries, aterioles, and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa. The sinusoids open and rapidly fill with blood. Finally, the distended sinusoids compress their drainage pathways (venules) against the fibroelastic covering of the cavernosal bodies (tunica albuginea) and trap the blood in cavernosal bodies. The combination of an increased inflow of blood into the penis and coincident markedly diminished outflow results in rapidly increasing intracavernosal pressure that ultimately approximates systolic pressure. At this pressure the penis has sufficient axial rigidity to permit vaginal penetration.
Men with diabetes tend to develop erectile dysfunction 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. As men with diabetes age, erectile dysfunction becomes even more common. Above the age of 50, the likelihood of having difficulty with an erection occurs in approximately 50% to 60% of men with diabetes. Above age 70, there is about a 95% likelihood of having some difficulty with erectile dysfunction.
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