When counseling diabetic men who are considering a PDE-5 inhibitor for ED, it is important to set realistic expectations and explain that studies document that all three agents are less effective in diabetic patients than in the general population of men with ED.45–49 For additional information, readers are referred to the excellent review of the use of PDE-5 inhibitors in diabetic men by Vickers and Satyanarayana.50

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

De Berardis et al.6 assessed general HRQOL in 1,460 men with type 2 diabetes in Italy. Within the cohort, 615 men reported that they never experienced ED, 346 stated that they occasionally had ED, and 449 stated that they frequently had ED. They then compared general HRQOL among these three groups. In the univariate analysis, they found that degree of ED negatively correlated with general HRQOL scores in all eight domains of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) health survey questionnaire. In the multivariate analysis, ED was not independently associated with physical function, bodily pain, or role limitations due to physical problem scores but was independently associated with general HRQOL outcomes in the domains of general health (P = 0.004), role limitations due to emotional problems (P = 0.001), vitality (P = 0.001), social functioning (P = 0.01), and overall mental health (P = 0.002). Another study examining the effect of ED on quality of life in hemodialysis patients, more than half of whom had diabetes, also noted an independent, negative effect of ED on the emotional domains of general HRQOL.39


Dr. Eid also urges these patients to treat their diabetes in order to avoid developing ED for life. “They need to manage their diabetes and make sure they control it so the ED will not progress and will stabilize, as a result,” he said. “If the diabetes is controlled after the patient is first diagnosed, then the erections will come back. But if the patient has diabetes for many years, and suddenly decides it’s time to control it, they cannot prevent the damage that’s already been done.”
Admitting to your doctor that you are having trouble achieving an erection can be difficult, but take comfort in the fact that they are not judging you and are there to improve your health and well-being. If you are just beginning a blood pressure treatment regimen and are beginning to experience erectile dysfunction, tell your doctor as soon as you can—they can solve the problem by simply changing the prescription.

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.
“The presence of erectile dysfunction portends a higher risk of future cardiovascular events, particularly in intermediate-risk men, and may serve as an opportunity for intensification of cardiovascular risk prevention strategies,” wrote Boston University heart specialists Naomi Hamburg, MD and Matt Kluge, MD, in an accompanying editorial. “The findings add to the growing evidence supporting additional trials to determine the clinical impact of erectile dysfunction screening and the appropriate cardiovascular directed evaluation and treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.”
For oral erectile dysfunction medicines to work as desired, they must be used properly in the first place. This means taking the medicine 30–45 minutes before engaging in sexual intimacy; taking the drug on an empty stomach or at least avoiding a heavy or high-fat meal before taking the drug (this is especially important when using sildenafil); and engaging in adequate genital stimulation before attempting intercourse. Drinking small amounts of alcohol (one to two drinks) should not compromise the effectiveness of erectile dysfunction medicines, but larger amounts of alcohol can diminish a man’s ability to have an erection.
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