While all three forms of male sexual dysfunction can be found among diabetic men, this review will focus on the most common form, ED, because the literature is most mature in this area. Defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance, ED is highly prevalent in diabetic men1 and is almost always organic in its etiology. Given that many patients feel that their ED is “in their heads” and that “their provider will dismiss any sexual problems they might bring up,”2 it may be a relief for patients to learn that their ED is physical, related to their diabetes, and treatable. To this end, the goal of this article is to review the epidemiology, pathophysiology, quality of life effect, and treatment of ED in men with type 2 diabetes.
Before Viagra hit the market in 1998, there was no proven treatment for erectile dysfunction that men could take in pill form. Doctors were interested in yohimbe, an herb that increases heart rate and blood pressure. Some doctors prescribed it to their patients in combination with other treatments for erectile dysfunction. Even then it was not a recommended treatment and is still not today. Studies have not proven that it works.
Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.
Arterial hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and affects approximately one third of the adult population worldwide. The vascular origin of erectile dysfunction is now widely accepted in the vast majority of cases. Erectile dysfunction is frequently encountered in patients with arterial hypertension and greatly affects their quality of life of hypertensive patients and their sexual partners. Therefore, the management of erectile dysfunction in hypertensive patients is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients, mainly due to the lack of familiarity with this clinical entity by treating physicians. This review aims to discuss the more frequent problems in the management of hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction and propose ways to overcome these problems in everyday clinical practice.
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."
A deficiency of L-arginine, however, does not generally disrupt nitric oxide synthesis because L-arginine availability is not the rate-limiting step in this process. In fact, research over the past five years has identified an endogenous (occurs in the body naturally) inhibitor called “asymmetric dimethylarginine” or ADMA, an amino acid which blocks the production of nitric oxide. By acting as an L-arginine mimic, this damaging look-alike effectively elbows out L-arginine and pushes it off to the side in the biochemical pathway leading to the synthesis of nitric oxide. ADMA is relatively elevated in patients with hypertension, high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, homocysteine and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), as well as with aging itself. This inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis may very well be the common factor shared by all of these abnormal conditions. Increased levels of this detrimental inhibitor (ADMA) block nitric oxide production, leading to endothelial dysfunction.
Table 3 is a suggested algorithm for the assessment of patients and their further categorization and handling. There are parts of investigation that are common for patients both with and without CVD, while additional elements of investigation are helpful in categorizing the patient without CVD to the appropriate risk category. Determination of exercise ability and stress testing is crucial to the assessment (see also below ‘Exercise ability: the risk of sexual activity’). Patients without established CVD or diabetes should be evaluated for their risk of future events according to risk scores (SCORE or Framingham). Patients with established CVD or diabetes are by default considered at increased risk. Patients with adequate exercise ability or a negative stress test can initiate or resume sexual activity and begin treatment for ED. In patients with a positive stress test or in high-risk patients, sexual activity should be deferred until the cardiac condition has been treated and stabilized. In all cases, patient follow-up and reassessment is recommended.
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.
Chronic heart failure often develops after other cardiac problems have damaged or weakened the heart, leaving it too weak or too stiff to fill and pump efficiently. Many underlying heart conditions can lead to heart failure. It can develop quickly after damage caused by a heart attack, or it can develop gradually after years of high blood pressure or coronary artery disease.
Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23
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
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.
If you have several atherosclerotic risk factors or symptoms of heart disease, your doctor might do additional tests to look for atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. A stress test involves monitoring the heart with an electrocardiogram or images before and after exercise. An angiogram, or cardiac catheterization, involves entering a blood vessel in the leg or wrist to pass instruments into the heart to directly visualize the coronary arteries. During this procedure, atherosclerosis can be treated by inflating a balloon or placing a metal stent in the coronary blood vessel to keep it open. If you and your doctor begin a treatment plan to prevent atherosclerosis at the first sign of ED, then you may significantly delay or prevent the need for these more invasive procedures.
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
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a study of 132 patients evaluated by penile duplex ultrasonography after intracorporeal papaverine injection found that hypertension alone was not an independent risk factor for vasculogenic ED.34x34Shabsigh, R, Fishman, IJ, Schum, C, and Dunn, JK. Cigarette smoking and other vascular risk factors in vasculogenic impotence. Urology. 1991; 38: 227–231
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that, although hypertensive patients had more coronary artery disease, no direct evidence supported an association between hypertension and arteriogenic impotence, as measured by the PBI, peak systolic velocity, and resistive index, in patients with mild to moderate hypertension.

Arterial hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and affects approximately one third of the adult population worldwide. The vascular origin of erectile dysfunction is now widely accepted in the vast majority of cases. Erectile dysfunction is frequently encountered in patients with arterial hypertension and greatly affects their quality of life of hypertensive patients and their sexual partners. Therefore, the management of erectile dysfunction in hypertensive patients is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients, mainly due to the lack of familiarity with this clinical entity by treating physicians. This review aims to discuss the more frequent problems in the management of hypertensive patients with erectile dysfunction and propose ways to overcome these problems in everyday clinical practice.
The pilot study by Vardi et al. (18) showed that LIESWT was effective in treating men with ED, suggesting a physiologic impact of LIESWT on cavernosal hemodynamics. The LIESWT is an effective penile rehabilitation tool that improves erectile function and potentially reverses underlying ED. Recent meta-analysis (19) of 14 studies showed that LiESWT could significantly improve the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) [mean difference: 2.00; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.99–3.00; P<0.0001] and Erection Hardness Score (EHS) (risk difference: 0.16; 95% CI, 0.04–0.29; P=0.01). In addition, the therapeutic efficacy was noted to last for at least 3 months. LiESWT has been cited to a potential cure for ED, unlike other well established non-surgical methods of treatment (i.e., PDE5i, ICI and VED) being on demand treatments.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References The Framingham Heart Study found a baseline risk of myocardial infarction in a healthy 50-year-old nonsmoking man to be approximately 1% per year, or 1 chance per million per hour.87x87Anderson, KM, Odell, PM, Wilson, PW, and Kannel, WB. Cardiovascular disease risk profiles. Am Heart J. 1991; 121: 293–298
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References By 1996, fueled by the availability of the new oral agent sildenafil, the number of outpatient visits for ED as estimated by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey had increased to 1.3 million per year.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338
However, sildenafil should be used carefully with nitrates because their combination can result in severe hypotension and death.68 Both short- and long-acting nitrates are commonly prescribed to treat angina, but they have no prognostic benefit. In addition, there are numerous alternatives to treat angina, such as ranolazine and ivabradine, which do not interact with PDE5 inhibitors. As a result, patients with ED wishing to take PDE5 inhibitors can safely discontinue their nitrates and replace this treatment with the other anti-anginal agents.68
If you can't take one of these oral medications, your physician may have you try Caverject (alprostadil for injection), a hormone that you inject into your penis using a fine needle, or Muse (alprostadil urogenital), a tiny suppository that you insert into the tip of the penis. Both of these will bring on an erection within five to 15 minutes without sexual stimulation.
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
Despite its limitations in detecting CVD without significant stenosis, EST (with or without imaging) can further define the cardiovascular risk in patients with ED and no overt CAD and may be particularly helpful for identifying silent CAD in patients with diabetes. Chemical stress tests are appropriate for patients who cannot complete an EST or in whom ECG is non-interpretable. In patients with established CVD, an interpretable EST is mandatory in the indeterminate risk category and is at the discretion of the cardiologist in the low risk category (Table 3B), since it determines exercise ability and estimates cardiovascular risk associated with sexual activity.
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.
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

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References However, other studies have noted that, when blood pressure levels are monitored after initiation of antihypertensive therapy, changes in blood pressure level are not correlated with sexual function.38x38Rosen, RC, Kostis, JB, Jekelis, A, and Taska, LS. Sexual sequelae of antihypertensive drugs: treatment effects on self-report and physiological measures in middle-aged male hypertensives. Arch Sex Behav. 1994; 23: 135–152


Red Ginseng — One small randomized trial found evidence that red ginseng may offer modest improvements in ED symptoms (as compared with placebo). A meta-anaylsis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology states, “Traditionally red ginseng has been used to restore and enhance normal well-being, and is often referred to as an adaptogenic….Possible mechanisms of action of red ginseng include hormonal effects similar to those of testosterone. Others have postulated that red ginseng might induce relaxation of the smooth muscles.”  (5)

Finding a potential early sign of heart disease is vital: Every minute in the United States someone dies from a heart disease-related event. Doctors know to watch for risks like obesity and high blood pressure; however, Men’s Health reports 50 percent of men who die from heart disease have never had one of these symptoms. For younger men, treating ED as an indicator of heart health could be a lifesaver.
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Like the case of untreated hypertensive patients, evaluation of sexual dysfunction in hypertensive patients under antihypertensive regime, should primarily exclude other concomitant diseases and pharmaceutical agents. Consecutively, a competent physician with advanced communicational skills should try to “discover” medically induced erectile dysfunction since a vast majority of patients being under complex antihypertensive regimes usually attribute the undesirable effect to normal aging thus not relating it to their current medication. Moreover, even physicians seldom report the cases of sexual dysfunction associated with certain medications. When medically induced sexual dysfunction is finally disclosed and a shift in medication is deemed necessary, b-blockers along with diuretics should generally be the first categories to be changed, unless they are deemed absolutely indicated for the individual patient. Ideally, an ARB could constitute the mainstay of therapy in these cases. If sexual dysfunction still persists, then more effective remedies should be elected paving the way for the introduction of phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5).
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Since then, several other oral PDE-5 inhibitors have been developed, including vardenafil and tadalafil, which generated considerable interest in both the scientific and lay communities. There was also much concern about their safety, especially in men with cardiovascular disease. Compared with the 2 newer PDE-5 inhibitors vardenafil and tadalafil, sildenafil has been available for a much longer time; therefore, the vast majority of published cardiovascular safety studies have been performed on this medication. Recommended starting and maximum doses of oral PDE-5 inhibitors are shown in Table 1.
The mechanisms of action by which antihypertensive medications cause ED are currently unknown. Some investigators have theorized that antihypertensive medications affect erectile function by decreasing blood pressure, which reduces the perfusion pressure needed to maintain sufficient blood flow for erections through atherosclerotic penile arteries.37x37Benet, AE and Melman, A. The epidemiology of erectile dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1995; 22: 699–709

The American College of Cardiology is a 52,000-member medical society that is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications.
No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.
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