Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.
Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.

ED almost always has an organic or mixed etiology in diabetic men. This often results in diabetic men reporting more severe ED when they present for treatment of this condition. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that diabetic men's responses to standard therapy for ED differ from those of the general population of men with ED.38 We, therefore, will now briefly review the literature regarding effectiveness of various ED therapies specifically in diabetic men.
In subsequent clinical studies, a surprisingly high percentage of EDDM patients–10% to 20%–claimed that the placebo "improved my erections," thus indicating a psychological basis for their ED. In the latter half of the 1980s, objective means were developed that could help determine if a EDDM patient had organic or psychogenic ED. The absence of rigid sleep erections confirmed by penile monitors was one criterion for organic ED. The failure of vasoactive agents (papaverine, Trimix, or prostaglandin E-1 [PGE-1]) injected into the corpora cavernosa to induce penile rigidity was another criterion for organic disease. Intracavernosal maintenance flow rates during pharmacocavernosometry and maximum cavernosal arterial flow during penile Doppler ultrasonography were additional determinants.
At the same time, people with diabetes are susceptible to a type of blood vessel damage known as endothelial dysfunction. A recent study found that men with ED are at a greater risk of heart disease, which is also associated with endothelial dysfunction. If blood vessels aren't in good working order, the penis may not get enough blood for an erection.
The Epimedium plant is a flowering perennial found throughout Asia and parts of the Mediterranean. Horny Goat Weed’s active ingredient is icariin, a falvonol glycoside and reputed to improve cardiovascular function, hormone regulation, modulation of immunological function and antitumor activity (44). Icariin has also been shown to have a PDE5i effect. Animal studies have been carried out showing improvements in penile hemodynamic parameters. There is one report of tachyarrhythmia and hypomania with the use of this herb (45).
The cardiovascular adverse effects of sildenafil use have been studied extensively. Phosphodiesterase type 5, although located primarily in the genitalia, also can be found throughout the systemic vasculature, although other PDEs predominate there10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References A study of 24 patients with ED and untreated essential hypertension showed decreased levels of free and total serum testosterone compared with normal controls.31x31Hughes, GS, Mathur, RS, and Margolius, HS. Sex steroid hormones are altered in essential hypertension. J Hypertens. 1989; 7: 181–187
When the diagnosis of vasculogenic sexual dysfunction has been carefully reached, physicians will have to come up with an effective treatment. Appropriate lifestyle measures and adoption of a healthier attitude could represent an initial, efficient and cost-effective treatment option[14]. This is due to the fact that traditional CV risk factors such as hypertension, physical inactivity-obesity, smoking and dyslipidemia have been consistently linked with endothelial and consequently sexual dysfunction[15].In this context, it has been demonstrated that moderate physical activity can reduce up to 30% the risk of erectile dysfunction contrary to sedentary life, which exerts a deleterious effect[16]. Interestingly, the beneficial effect of physical exercise on sexual dysfunction seems to be independent of its favorable impact on the general cardiovascular profile[17]. In terms of caloric reduction, Mediterranean diet exerts a positive effect on sexual function parameters of patients with metabolic syndrome[18]. Moreover, combined physical exercise and caloric restriction can result in weight reduction which in succession can reduce up to 30% the risk of obesity-associated erectile dysfunctio[19].
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
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

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References It has been postulated that regular exercise can decrease or possibly eliminate the small risk of myocardial infarction associated with sexual intercourse in most patients.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
Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.
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).

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (1) | Google ScholarSee all References Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors also have low rates of secondary ED associated with their use in both animal and human studies.45x45Srilatha, B, Adaikan, PG, Arulkumaran, S, and Ng, SC. Sexual dysfunction related to antihypertensive agents: results from the animal model. Int J Impot Res. 1999; 11: 107–113
Hyperlipidemia has been implicated in the development of ED by several different mechanisms. Hyperlipidemia is associated with development of atherosclerotic blood vessel disease, thus contributing to vasculogenic impotence. Penile vascular changes have been noted in impotent patients with elevated serum lipids.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
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.
The authors observe that multiple factors may be involved. In addition to decreased exercise capacity, patients with chronic heart failure have blood vessel and circulation abnormalities that can reduce blood flow into the penis and interfere with the ability to maintain an erection. And erectile dysfunction can be caused or worsened by many of the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat chronic heart failure.
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
Intracavernosal and intraurethral injections are second-line therapy for patients with ED. Alprostadil is the agent most commonly used for intracavernosal injections. The main adverse effects of intracavernosal injections are painful erection, priapism and development of scarring at the injection site.73 Alprostadil is also available as a topical cream in patients who cannot tolerate injections.75
Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
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.
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
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.
Vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is the main cause of sexual dysfunction in untreated hypertensive patients. However, due to the complex etiologic and pathophysiologic nature of sexual dysfunction, exclusion of concomitant diseases and drugs should be the initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with this clinical condition that is not receiving any antihypertensive medication. Consequently, a significant amount of neurological, psychiatric, urologic and endocrine disorders should be ruled out before vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is diagnosed.
Lindau ST,  Abramsohn E,  Gosch K,  Wroblewski K,  Spatz ES,  Chan PS,  Spertus J,  Krumholz HM. Patterns and loss of sexual activity in the year following hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction (a United States National Multisite Observational Study), Am J Cardiol , 2012, vol. 109 (pg. 1439-1444)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.01.355
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common disorder that affects the quality of life of many patients. It is prevalent in more than half of males aged over 60 years. Increasing evidence suggests that ED is predominantly a vascular disorder. Endothelial dysfunction seems to be the common pathological process causing ED. Many common risk factors for atherosclerosis such as diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia are prevalent in patients with ED and so management of these common cardiovascular risk factors can potentially prevent ED. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors provide short-term change of haemodynamic factors to help initiate and maintain penile erection. They have been shown to be an effective and safe treatment strategy for ED in patients with heart disease, including those with ischaemic heart disease and hypertension.
Beta-blockers: A popular blood pressure medication that affects part of the nervous system in an attempt to slow and regulate heartbeats, helping reduce blood pressure. Unfortunately, this same part of the nervous system is also responsible for causing erections, and when beta blockers are used, it indirectly reduces the amount of blood flow to the penis.
Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), elevations in blood lipids or cholesterol are considered blood vessel problems and have all been associated with Erectile Dysfunction. The blood vessel abnormalities caused by these diseases affect vessels throughout the body and often produce other symptoms of vascular diseases. Diabetics and patients with hypertension frequently have heart disease. These conditions typically interfere with the ability of the penile vessels to work properly and ultimately cause ED.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, some researchers have questioned whether the strain of sexual activity can be compared accurately with standard types of physical activity and whether sexual activity is more closely related to episodes of anger or fear.85x85DeBusk, RF. Evaluating the cardiovascular tolerance for sex. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 51F–56F
Counselling or sex therapy (58% of people find this works for them) –mind-related causes of erectile dysfunction can affect anyone. They are more likely if you experience erectile dysfunction at a younger age. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help some people overcome erectile dysfunction related to these problems, possibly for good. They can also help you if your erectile dysfunction is causing you stress, as this can make matters worse.
The study, which retrospectively tracked more than 43,000 men for an average of 3.3 years, found that men prescribed phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—the type of erectile dysfunction drug sold under the names Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and others—after their first heart attack were 38 percent less likely to die from any cause. No survival benefit was seen among men taking alprostadil, another type of erectile dysfunction drug that works through a different mechanism.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913
The body’s source for nitric oxide production is the amino acid L-arginine, which is naturally found in many foods. The average American ingests about 3,000–5,000 mg of L-arginine per day, as it is an amino acid naturally contained in many foods. Meats of all varieties, nuts, and dairy products are rich in L-arginine, so the body is accustomed to intake levels of several thousand milligrams every day.
Heart disease and erectile dysfunction can be related. In fact, ED and heart disease are considered two signs of the same disease process. The smaller arteries in the penis are affected by atherosclerosis sooner, perhaps three or more years before they cause heart disease symptoms.11 A large international study found that men with ED were more likely to die from heart causes; have a heart attack, stroke or be admitted to the hospital with heart failure than men with no or mild ED.12
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References When matched for age, hypertension, diabetes, and tobacco use, no significant difference was noted in the presence of ED (42% in the myocardial infarction group vs 48% in the control group). However, the presence of severe congestive heart failure has been associated with increased ED. A study of 80 patients with New York Heart Association class III/IV congestive heart failure found that 40% of these patients had complete ED, and another 40% had either mild or moderate ED.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N
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 (47) | Google ScholarSee all References Because of this perceived increase in risk, many couples are concerned about resuming sexual activity in the setting of cardiac disease. A study that monitored male patients after coronary artery bypass grafting found that 17% of patients and 35% of their partners were afraid of resuming sexual activity.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
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