Erectile dysfunction means that a man is not able to have sex because he cannot get or keep an erection. Erectile dysfunction affects >30% of men between 40 and 70 years of age. There are several different causes of ED, including depression, low testosterone, nerve problems, and some medications, but the most common cause is a problem with the blood vessels called atherosclerosis.
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.
The obvious risks are the same that accompany any surgery: infection, pain, bleeding, and scarring. If for some reason the prosthesis or parts become damaged or dislocated, surgical removal may be necessary. With a general success rate of about 90 percent, any of the devices will restore erections, but they will not affect sexual desire, ejaculation, or orgasm.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (77) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator that is commonly used as an antianginal agent because of its ability to improve the imbalance between myocardial oxygen supply and demand.65x65Stamler, JS, Loh, E, Roddy, MA, Currie, KE, and Creager, MA. Nitric oxide regulates basal systemic and pulmonary vascular resistance in healthy humans. Circulation. 1994; 89: 2035–2040
Besides mammalian organs, insects and arthropods are also consumed as aphrodisiacs in Eastern medicine. These include scorpions, spiders, beetles, flies and other bugs (32). Penile erections can be observed following administration of neurotoxins as it causes repetitive firing of the somatic, sympathetic and parasympathetic neurons, resulting in autonomic and neuromuscular over-excitation. Scorpions are often used as an ingredient found in herbal wines. However, there is a general lack of literature regarding the consumption of scorpion neurotoxins for potency.
Erectile dysfunction is an accurate predictor of heart attacks and strokes in the future. Psychogenic components play a role in erectile dysfunction, but the most common and primary cause in most men is organic vascular insufficiency, meaning not enough blood gets to the penis. Erectile dysfunction usually occurs one to five years before a male manifests overt signs of cardiovascular disease. The first sign may be death.
But closer questioning often revealed a very different story—men would admit that struggles to achieve an erection usually preceded a heart attack or other cardiac event by one, two, or three years. Back then, the pattern of erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease was so widespread, that most in the medical profession attributed it to simple “aging,” as common as wrinkles and constipation.

Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References These hormonal findings were supported by a study of 1132 men aged 30 to 79 years that found an inverse relationship between blood pressure and serum testosterone levels.32x32Khaw, KT and Barrett-Connor, E. Blood pressure and endogenous testosterone in men: an inverse relationship. J Hypertens. 1988; 6: 329–332
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.
To date, there are no studies directly comparing the effectiveness of these three agents among diabetic men with ED, so it is impossible to state that one agent is superior to another in terms of effectiveness in diabetic patients. However, there are an number of studies that compare the individual agents to placebo in diabetic men with ED. For example, Boulton et al.41 completed a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of sildenafil in 219 men with ED and type 2 diabetes. They found that sildenafil resulted in a significant improvement in the ability to both achieve and maintain an erection adequate for sexual intercourse in men with type 2 diabetes. In a similar study, Rendell et al.42 randomized 268 diabetic men with ED to receive either sildenafil in a dose-escalation manner or placebo. At the conclusion of the 12-week study, 56% of the patients in the sildenafil arm reported improved erections, compared to 10% in the placebo arm (P < 0.001). Additionally, 61% of patients in the diabetic arm reported at least one successful attempt at sexual intercourse in the final month of the study, compared to 22% in the control arm (P < 0.001). Similar randomized studies have documented the effectiveness of both tadalafil43 and vardenafil44 in the treatment of diabetes-related ED.
In contrast to Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng is divided into three types, depending on how it is processed. Red Ginseng is harvested at the sixth year of cultivation and is steamed and dried. In addition to the effects mentioned regarding the effects of ginsenoside, red ginseng has been repoted to improve erectile function in a rat model of metabolic syndrome and it was also found to inhibit fibrosis of the corpus cavernosum of the penis (39). As with most herbal medicines, the concentration of ginsenoside are distributed unevenly throughout the ginseng plant and the concentrations in individual supplements can vary. Common side effects include headaches, insomnia, gastric upset, rash and constipation.
Testosterone cypionate and testosterone enanthate injections are used for replacement therapy in patients with low testosterone. Other formulations, such as gels and patches, are recommended in older patients with chronic conditions.57 Serum prostate specific antigen should be measured before starting testosterone replacement, then 3–6 months after starting the treatment, followed by annual measurement.74
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse.  To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.
SOURCES: American Urological Association, "AUA Guideline on the Management of Erectile Dysfunction: Diagnosis and Treatment Recommendations." Barksdale, J. Pharmacotherapy, May 1999; vol 19: pp 573-581. Ferrario, C. Journal of Clinical Hypertension, November/December 2002; vol 4: pp 424-432. Fogari, R. American Journal of Hypertension, January 2001; vol. 14: pp 27-31. Grimm, R. Hypertension, January 1997; vol 29: pp 8-14. Llisteri, J. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, May 2001; vol. 321: pp 336-341. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension: Treatment With ACE Inhibitors."
ED is easily and successfully treated! If your sex drive is unaffected, but you experience problems achieving or sustaining erection for a period of four to five weeks, you may have ED. Talk to your doctor immediately. Don’t delay—erectile dysfunction doesn’t “just go away!” Additionally, ED could be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening complication, such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease. Ignoring your ED because it’s embarrassing could jeopardize your health.
Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References Only 1 published study has investigated the effect of vardenafil on cardiac function.75x75Thadani, U, Smith, W, Nash, S et al. The effect of vardenafil, a potent and highly selective phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, on the cardiovascular response to exercise in patients with coronary artery disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2002; 40: 2006–2012

How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.

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.
Acupuncture. Though acupuncture has been used to treat male sexual problems for centuries, the scientific evidence to support its use for erectile dysfunction is equivocal at best. In 2009, South Korean scientists conducted a systematic review of studies on acupuncture for ED. They found major design flaws in all of the studies, concluding that "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED."
People sometimes refer to ED as "impotence," although the two aren't really the same condition. ED is the physical inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough for sex. Impotence is a broader term. While one cause of it is ED, impotence may also involve a lack of sexual desire, an inability to ejaculate, or problems with orgasm.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is found predominantly in the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa but can be found in smaller quantities in platelets and other vascular smooth muscle.56x56Wallis, RM, Corbin, JD, Francis, SH, and Ellis, P. Tissue distribution of phosphodiesterase families and the effects of sildenafil on tissue cyclic nucleotides, platelet function, and the contractile responses of trabeculae carneae and aortic rings in vitro. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 3C–12C
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
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:

PDE-5 inhibitors amplify the intacavernosal production of cGMP in response to nitric oxide. This is achieved through the inhibition of cGMP's breakdown by the enzyme, PDE-5. If the predominant abnormality in the individual EDDM patient is molecular, the higher tissue levels of cGMP will overcome these inhibitory factors and the patient will regain erectile function. If the physical structure (eg, the compliance) of the cavernosal tissue has been significantly compromised by apoptosis of smooth muscle or increased collagen deposits, restoration of erectile function will not be achieved. These structural changes explain the lower efficacy rates of PDE-5 inhibitors in EDDM than in the general population.
In Eastern medicine, animal products are commonly used for their perceived health benefits. The philosophy “like nourishes like”, suggests that consuming the organ of an animal will bring benefits to the corresponding organ in one’s body is a common belief. Men seeking greater potency have turned to eating penises from goats, bull, deer, horses, seals and other mammals in the form of cooked dishes or herbal preparations. While there is no scientific evidence supporting this practice, the cultural beliefs remain strong and supplements containing extracts from animal penises are readily available in the form of capsules, often mixed with herbal compounds pitching similar erectogenic properties. A significant proportion of these potency-inducing supplements in Asia have been found to contain PDE5-inhibitors substrates such as tadalafil and sildenafil (30). However uncontrolled use of illicit PDE5-inhibitors under the guise of natural supplements remains a health threat to the general public.
Qigong is a form of breathing exercises commonly practised in Asia to maintain health (53). In a cross-sectional population-based comparison study in Taiwan, individuals practising Qigong demonstrate higher SF-36 scores in the domains of physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, bodily pain, general health and vitality (54). Techniques to concentrate the energy or qi in the pelvis or genitals are regularly practised, but the effects of Qigong on ED have not been studied.
Cavallini, G., Modenini, F., Vitali, G., & Koverech, A. (2005, November). Acetyl-L-carnitine plus propionyl-L-carnitine improve efficacy of sildenafil in treatment of erectile dysfunction after bilateral nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy. Urology, 66(5), 1080-5. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429505006515
How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
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

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.
Basaria S,  Coviello AD,  Travison TG,  Storer TW,  Farwell WR,  Jette AM,  Eder R,  Tennstedt S,  Ulloor J,  Zhang A,  Choong K,  Lakshman KM,  Mazer NA,  Miciek R,  Krasnoff J,  Elmi A,  Knapp PE,  Brooks B,  Appleman E,  Aggarwal S,  Bhasin G,  Hede-Brierley L,  Bhatia A,  Collins L,  LeBrasseur N,  Fiore LD,  Bhasin S. Adverse events associated with testosterone administration, N Engl J Med , 2010, vol. 36 (pg. 109-122)https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1000485
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A number of nonprescription products claim to be herbal forms of Viagra. Some of these products contain unknown amounts of ingredients similar to those in prescription medications, which can cause dangerous side effects. Some actually contain the real drug, which should be given by prescription only. Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned many of these products, some potentially dangerous erectile dysfunction remedies remain on the market.
Penile implants - are generally used if physical damage (like an accident) makes the anatomical parts needed for an erection not work. These are inserted by surgery and can provide a permanent treatment choice if others fail to work. The implants can be semi-rigid or inflatable. They can be pretty expensive and are not usually available on the NHS.
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (19) | Google ScholarSee all References However, there has been disagreement regarding the effects of diuretics on erectile function; many studies found that only rarely have these medications been implicated convincingly as the cause of a patient's ED.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31
Most studies into the effect of beta-blockers on ED point to negative effects of first- and second-generation beta-blockers, while beta-blockers with vasodilating effects can improve erectile function. Alpha-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors seem to have a neutral effect on erectile function. Multiple previous studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect of angiotensin receptor blockers on erectile function and they should probably be the favoured antihypertensive agents in patients with ED.29
A study conducted by Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne Australia published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that men over 20 years of age with erectile dysfunction (ED) have twice the risk of cardiovascular incidents than those of men with normal sexual health. It was also found out that 2% of men aged 55 and older experienced major stroke and cardiac arrest after the initial episode of ED, within a year; 11% experienced something within five years.  Experts from Prince Henry’s Institute warned men with these failures to seek advice on erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure. This may indicate a missing vital warning sign of impending heart disease. Why is this happening? Do men with ED predispose themselves to have cardiovascular diseases and strokes or just the other way around?
Erectile dysfunction is frequent in patients with established CAD with prevalence rates ranging between 47 and 75% in studies.2,4,14 The AssoCiatiOn Between eRectile dysfunction and coronary Artery disease (COBRA) trial tested the hypothesis that the ED rate differs in CAD patients according to the clinical presentation (acute vs. chronic coronary syndromes) and the extent of vessel involvement (one vs. two to three vessel disease)15 (Figure 3). The overall ED prevalence in CAD patients was 47%, whereas in the normal coronary angiography group the ED rate was 24%. When separately considered, the ED rate was 22% in patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and one-vessel disease and 55 and 65% in patients with ACS and multi-vessel disease and with chronic coronary syndrome, respectively. The study also showed that both severity (IIEF <10) and duration (>24 months) of ED were predictive of severe coronary involvement at angiography. This study offers pathophysiological and mechanistic explanations related to the clinical setting. In patients with multi-vessel disease, regardless of the clinical presentation, the advanced coronary and systemic atherosclerosis is the reason for the high rate of ED. However, in the setting of acute myocardial infarction with one-vessel disease, ED is far less frequent because the atherosclerotic burden is modest (i.e. abrupt occlusion of a single non-obstructing plaque in the absence of extensive atherosclerosis) in both the coronary and penile circulations.15,16

Although ED is a common complication of diabetes, its effect on quality of life is not well understood. Recent work for the Exploratory Comprehensive Evaluation of Erectile Dysfunction (ExCEED) database demonstrates that in the general population of patients presenting to their urologist, ED negatively affects both general and disease-specific health-related quality of life (HRQOL).35 While this study provides insight into the detrimental affect of ED on quality of life, the cohort is somewhat selected, in that all of the patients were seen in sexual dysfunction clinics and therefore may have been more likely to be bothered by their condition and to report worse quality of life.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a randomized placebo-controlled trial of 65 patients given either placebo or 95 mg/d of sustained-release metoprolol for 4 months after percutaneous coronary angioplasty found no significant difference in sexual function between the 2 groups.44x44Franzen, D, Metha, A, Seifert, N, Braun, M, and Hopp, HW. Effects of beta-blockers on sexual performance in men with coronary heart disease: a prospective, randomized and double blinded study. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 348–351


Having chronically high blood pressure can affect overall satisfaction with sex and affect men’s ability to achieve a firm erection. Due to constant vessel damage as a result of high blood pressure, linings of the arteries begin to harden and narrow, a process called atherosclerosis. Because blood flow is limited to the affected regions of the body, arterial blood circulation to various organs—including the heart muscles, brain, and even the groin—can be compromised, with myocardial infarctions, strokes, and erectile difficulty being common in hypertensive patients. Studies show that approximately 30 percent of hypertensive patients reported having erectile dysfunction, and approximately 49 percent of men aged 40 to 79 had both high blood pressure and ED.
Gene therapy has the potential to become a future management option for patients with CAD and ED. Animal studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of gene therapy. A rat model was studied by Bivalacqua et al. to evaluate the effect of the combination of eNOS gene therapy and sildenafil. This research suggested that erectile response was greater in male rats with diabetes treated with combination eNOS gene therapy and sildenafil, compared with male rats with diabetes treated with eNOS gene therapy or sildenafil alone.76–78
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
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PDE-5 inhibitors amplify the intacavernosal production of cGMP in response to nitric oxide. This is achieved through the inhibition of cGMP's breakdown by the enzyme, PDE-5. If the predominant abnormality in the individual EDDM patient is molecular, the higher tissue levels of cGMP will overcome these inhibitory factors and the patient will regain erectile function. If the physical structure (eg, the compliance) of the cavernosal tissue has been significantly compromised by apoptosis of smooth muscle or increased collagen deposits, restoration of erectile function will not be achieved. These structural changes explain the lower efficacy rates of PDE-5 inhibitors in EDDM than in the general population.


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (77) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator that is commonly used as an antianginal agent because of its ability to improve the imbalance between myocardial oxygen supply and demand.65x65Stamler, JS, Loh, E, Roddy, MA, Currie, KE, and Creager, MA. Nitric oxide regulates basal systemic and pulmonary vascular resistance in healthy humans. Circulation. 1994; 89: 2035–2040
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
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.
A collection of risk factors that strongly predict heart disease—termed the metabolic syndrome—is also associated with erectile dysfunction. An increasingly prevalent condition, this syndrome includes low HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood sugar, and heightened inflammation and causes a three-fold or greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is largely attributable to excess weight, poor diet, and inactivity and afflicts at least 47 million Americans, signaling that an epidemic of erectile dysfunction is sure to follow. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 men participating in a health screening revealed that metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by 48%.10
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).
Finally, prevalence rates will be affected by whether the study population is accrued from a single hospital/clinic setting or from a more general population of men with diabetes. For example, Siu et al.4 studied 500 Chinese diabetic men (of which 97% had type 2 disease) seen at a single medical clinic in Hong Kong during 1999 and found the overall prevalence of ED to be 63.6%. Contrast this to Fedele et al.,5 who studied 9,756 diabetic men accrued from 178 diabetes centers in Italy. Among the 8,373 men with type 2 diabetes, only 37% reported ED, considerably less than in the Chinese study.
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