Most cases of sexual dysfunction are related to a physical cause. The most common causes are diabetes, heart disease, neurological trauma or disease, and side effects of medications. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to impotence. While most of the focus has been on men with erectile dysfunction, a number of women also suffer from this disorder.
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.
Considering the fact that CV disease presents with higher incidence in patients with erectile dysfunction while at the same time sexual activity by itself poses potential CV risks, the appropriate management of those complex conditions is of utmost importance. Accordingly, the working group of the third Princeton Consensus Conference developed practical guidelines and a simplified algorithm in order to manage sexual dysfunction and sexual activity implementation issues in patients with different levels of CV risk, including hypertensive patients[90].

This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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.
Bohm M,  Baumhakel M,  Teo K,  Sleight P,  Probstfield J,  Gao P,  Mann JF,  Diaz R,  Dagenais GR,  Jennings GL,  Liu L,  Jansky P,  Yusuf S. ONTARGET/TRANSCEND Erectile Dysfunction Substudy InvestigatorsErectile dysfunction predicts cardiovascular events in high-risk patients receiving telmisartan, ramipril, or both: The ONgoing Telmisartan Alone and in combination with Ramipril Global Endpoint Trial/Telmisartan Randomized AssessmeNt Study in ACE iNtolerant subjects with cardiovascular Disease (ONTARGET/TRANSCEND) Trials, Circulation , 2010, vol. 121 (pg. 1439-1446)https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.864199
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.
There are currently two models of the inflatable penile prosthesis (IPP), namely, the two-piece IPP vs. the three-piece IPP. The three-piece IPP consists of a pair of corporal cylinders, a scrotal pump and an abdominal reservoir filled with saline. Owing to the presence of the reservoir, the corporal cylinders can be completely deflated to give the patient the physiological flaccid state when not in use, and likewise a maximally turgid state when inflated (21). The two-piece IPP lacks an abdominal reservoir and is often offered in patients with whom placement of reservoir is challenging or not possible such as following radical cysto-prostatectomy with orthotopic ileal neobladder creation, or patients who had previous open book fracture of the pelvis with metal implants. The concept of ectopic reservoir placement has allowed many of these men the option for three-piece IPP placement (22). Technological advances have improved mechanical reliability, reduced prosthesis infection risk and offered excellent patient and partner satisfaction rate (23).

Some commonly prescribed cardiovascular drugs (beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, etc.) contribute to ED.18 Previous studies have shown a strong association between ED and diuretics in patients treated with hydrochlorothiazide or chlorthalidone.19,20 It has also been shown that patients treated with first-generation non-selective beta-blockers, such as propranolol, had more frequent ED than those treated with a placebo.21


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References However, if optimally treated with β-blockers, lipid-lowering agents, and aspirin, these patients have no significantly increased cardiovascular risk associated with sexual activity, although they should receive appropriate risk information.88x88Jackson, G. The use of sildenafil in heart disease [editorial]. Hosp Med. 2000; 61: 526–527
Yohimbine is an indole alkaloid derived from the bark of the African yohimbe tree (33). Yohimbine has been noted to treat fatigue, depression, diabetes, and sexual dysfunction. A meta-analysis of seven placebo-controlled trials (34) deemed yohimbine superior to placebo for the treatment of ED with rare adverse events. The proposed mechanism of action (35) is via the inhibition of central alpha-2-adrenergic receptors, decreasing central inhibition of arousal, and increasing penile nerve stimulation resulting in increased NO. Common side effects include headache, sweating, agitation, hypertension and insomnia. Contraindications include patients on tricyclic antidepressants, anti-hypertensives and central nervous system stimulants.

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
Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.
There’s one more thing to remember: A visit to a physician can be helpful even if a man doesn’t want to go near Viagra or try one of the alternatives. In some cases, a treatable medical condition such as low testosterone or depression could explain a case of ED. “Sexual health should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an essential component to wellness,” said urologist Ryan P. Terlecki, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.
"If you have an active sex life after a heart attack, it is probably safe to use PDE5 inhibitors," said Daniel Peter Andersson, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and the study's lead author. "This type of erectile dysfunction treatment is beneficial in terms of prognosis, and having an active sex life seems to be a marker for a decreased risk of death."
Owing to its delicate nature, discussion about the sexual life of the patient is effective not on a circumstantial visit to the doctor, but on the basis of confidence between the patient and the physician, as is usually the case with the cardiologist. Thus, the cardiologist is given a unique opportunity to identify ED and thus ‘recharacterize’ the risk of the patient. In addition, since normal sexual activity is important to most men with CVD, irrespective of age, the cardiologist can clarify issues that relate to such activity after a cardiac event or to a specific cardiac condition (e.g. heart failure). Often, such issues are hampered by misconceptions from the side of the patient. Therefore, while less than half of the patients receive information about resuming sexual activity after a cardiac event, proper counselling increases their likelihood to resume their previous level of sexual activity by 50%.50 Furthermore, the cardiologist can increase adherence to the medication by clarifying that it is uncommonly the true cause of ED. Finally, proper counselling is required to ensure safety of concomitant PDE5 inhibitors medication, the use of which has the additional advantage to increase compliance to CVD mediation, especially in hypertension. It should be noted that while patients are often reluctant to bring up the issue of sexual health, they are relieved and respond positively when their cardiologist has done so. It should also be emphasized that, frequently, sexual counselling is more effective when done together with their partner.
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.
Experts feel that treating erectile dysfunction on your own, without consulting a doctor, is unsafe. "If you have ED, the first thing you need is a diagnosis," says impotence expert Steven Lamm, MD, a New York City internist and the author of The Hardness Factor (Harper Collins) and other books on male sexual health. He says men with severe erectile dysfunction probably need one of the prescription ED drugs, which include Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) as well as Viagra. But, he says, mild ED -- including the feeling that "you're not as hard as you could be" -- often responds to natural remedies.
Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33
In a 2005 study, three months of twice-daily sets of kegel exercises combined with biofeedback and advice on lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and limiting alcohol, worked far better than just giving the participants advice. “Wearing tight pants will affect impotence along with some other medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” which can also affect a man’s degree of impotence, Dr. Jennifer Burns, specializing in family practice with an emphasis on gastrointestinal health at the BienEtre Center, told Medical Daily.
Vacuum therapy devices have a few disadvantages. One must interrupt foreplay to use them. You must use the correct-size tension ring and remove it, to prevent penile bruising, after sustaining the erection for 30 minutes. Initial use may produce some soreness. Such devices may be unsuitable for men with certain bleeding disorders. In general, vacuum constriction devices are successful in management of long-term ED.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, affecting almost 40% of men over 40 years of age (with varying degrees of severity) and increases in frequency with age.1 Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease (CVD) share common risk factors including age, hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, insulin resistance and diabetes, smoking, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sedentary lifestyle, and depression.2 Cardiovascular disease and ED also share a common pathophysiological basis of aetiology and progression.3 Numerous studies have established that ED (i) is frequent in men with established CVD, (ii) co-exists with occult coronary artery disease (CAD) and (iii) is an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular (CV) events both in men with established CVD and in men with no known CVD.2,4,5 In the latter group, ED precedes CAD, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease by a significant period that usually ranges from 2 to 5 years (average 3 years).2 Although the ED patient can be managed by various medical specialties, and preferably a collaborative approach is most effective, this review is oriented to the cardiologist. While this review deals exclusively with sexual health of men, female sexual health and its potential relation with CVD is also an interesting, yet underexplored, field. As in men, moderating common risk factors seems to improve female sexual health and may serve as an opportunity to decrease CVD risk, with the identification of sexual dysfunction being the starting point.6
Previous studies reported that there is a strong chance of future cardiac events when ED occurs in younger men compared with older men.11 Another study suggested that there is consistent association across age groups.12 A study of men with diabetes found that ED acts as an indicator of cardiovascular events after adjusting for other illnesses, psychological aspects and the usual cardiovascular risk factors.13 Another large-scale study comprising 25,650 men with pre-existing ED suggested that these men had a 75 % increased risk of peripheral vascular disease.14 Moreover, some studies demonstrated a relationship between ED score and number of diseased coronary arteries and plaque burden in coronary arteries.2,15
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.
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

Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The Princeton Consensus Panel provided guidelines (Table 4) for physicians regarding patients who are being evaluated for their level of risk in resuming sexual activity.51x51DeBusk, R, Drory, Y, Goldstein, I et al. Management of sexual dysfunction in patients with cardiovascular disease: recommendations of the Princeton Consensus Panel. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 62F–68F

Your doctor may also choose to lower your dose of certain medications. Or your provider may switch the type of drug you’re taking if it’s interfering with your sex life. Some medicines used for managing blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, seizures and prostate problems increase the risk for erectile dysfunction. Beta-blockers (for high blood pressure), SSRIs (often used to treat depression) and the class of drugs called benzodiazepines (like Ativan, Xanax, Librium and Valium) are commonly tied to ED. You may want to speak to your doctor about this.
The drugs come in several strengths. Most men should start with a low to moderate dose. The dose can be adjusted depending on the results. Men with potential problems should always start with the lowest dose. Every man should avoid consuming alcohol before taking these drugs. Men who do not respond to a full dose on two or three different occasions should try other treatments.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References Between 1987 and 1989, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS), a community-based random sample observational study of 1709 men, used self-administered sexual activity questionnaires to gather information about noninstitutionalized men aged 40 to 70 years in cities near Boston.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
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References The risk of ED was 1.83 times higher in men with a total cholesterol level greater than 240 mg/dL as opposed to less than 180 mg/dL. Also, an HDL cholesterol level greater than 60 mg/dL was found to be protective against the development of ED. In the MMAS, HDL cholesterol levels were noted to have an inverse relationship with the presence of ED.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
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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