Low intracavernosal nitric oxide synthase levels are found in people with diabetes, smokers, and men with testosterone deficiency. Interference with oxygen delivery or nitric oxide synthesis can prevent intracavernosal blood pressure from rising to a level sufficient to impede emissary vein outflow, leading to an inability to acquire or sustain rigid erection. Examples include decreased blood flow and inadequate intracavernosal oxygen levels when atherosclerosis involves the hypogastric artery or other feeder vessels and conditions, such as diabetes, that are associated with suboptimal nitric oxide synthase activity.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil is taken orally 1 hour before anticipated sexual intercourse and enhances the normal response to sexual stimulation; however, it has no effect on erections in the absence of stimulation.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References This study concluded that patients who have stable coronary artery disease who can exercise to 4.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) with a negative or mildly positive stress test and without angina or hypotension can safely take sildenafil. Physicians who prescribe sildenafil should counsel their patients that, if they have chest pain or other cardiac symptoms with sexual intercourse, they should not take nitrates and should immediately call their physician.66x66Jackson, G. Sexual intercourse and stable angina pectoris. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 35F–37F
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References Other studies have proposed that the strain involved with intercourse in older patients is less associated with physical exertion and more closely related to sexual arousal.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

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 | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References, 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
ED is a common complication of diabetes that affects patients' quality of life. While the etiology of this complication may be multifactorial in nature, it is clear that it usually has a strong organic component. Because men with diabetes value their erectile function highly, it is important that providers encourage them to maintain good glycemic, blood pressure, and lipid control to minimize their risk of developing this complication.
According to the Mayo Clinic, oral medications are usually the first-line treatment for ED. Those medications include Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra). They operate by helping relax muscles in the penis by strengthening the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring chemical in the body. The drugs increase blood flow to allow patients to get an erection.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References In some elderly men, tadalafil could be detected in the bloodstream 6 days after oral ingestion.74x74Gresser, U and Gleiter, CH. Erectile dysfunction: comparison of efficacy and side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil—review of the literature. Eur J Med Res. 2002; 7: 435–446
Getting frequent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are, of course, also important. Plus, avoiding or minimizing risky dietary factors such as salt, alcohol, caffeine, and too much animal products is crucial. Animal protein elevates insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the blood, a growth-promoting hormone that is associated with increased risk of several cancers and cardiovascular disease.19, 20
In particular, patients are classified into three categories (low, intermediate, high) depending on their CV risk profile. Individuals with controlled hypertension belong to the low-risk group where sexual dysfunction can be safely managed with the approved medical therapies regardless of the number or class (with the exception of b-blockers and diuretics) of agents of the patient’s antihypertensive regime. Moreover, patients of this group can safely initiate or reinstitute sexual activity without any need for additional cardiovascular evaluation.
Stream a variety of exercise routines to get you moving and motivated! GlucoseZone™ is a digital exercise program that provides you with personalized exercise guidance and support designed to help you achieve the diabetes and fitness results you want. American Diabetes Association members receive an exclusive discount on their GlucoseZone subscription when they sign up using their ADA member ID!

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.


Organic nitrates are drugs that widen arteries by increasing their supply of nitric oxide; that's how they open the partially blocked coronary arteries in patients with angina. But because nitrates and ED pills both act on nitric oxide, the drugs don't mix; healthy volunteers given Viagra followed an hour later by nitroglycerin see their blood pressures drop by 25–51 mm Hg, a potentially dangerous amount. All experts agree that men who are taking nitrates cannot use ED pills; this includes all preparations of nitroglycerin (short-acting, under-the-tongue tablets or sprays), long-acting nitrates (isosorbide dinitrate or Isordil, Sorbitrate, and others, and isosorbide mononitrate, Imdur, ISMO, and others), nitroglycerin patches and pastes, and amyl nitrite or amyl nitrate (so-called poppers, which some men use for sexual stimulation).

Myocardial ischaemia is caused by the reduction of coronary blood flow as a result of fixed or dynamic epicardial coronary artery stenosis, abnormal constriction or deficient relaxation of coronary microcirculation, or because of reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.56 Atherosclerosis is the major cause of myocardial ischaemia. Plaque that develops in atherosclerosis can rupture causing platelet aggregation and subsequent thrombus formation, which leads to MI. The other mechanisms of myocardial ischaemia are encountered far less than atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction has an important role in the progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction enhances the intimal proliferation and malregulation that results in plaque destabilisation in the arteries.6 This process, coupled with paradoxical vasoconstriction, can result in major cardiovascular events such as MI.32


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.”
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Penile sympathetic stimulation flows through several pathways, including the sympathetic chain ganglia, which also supply such structures as the heart and vascular system. Sympathetic tone precipitates release of norepinephrine from penile adrenergic nerves, resulting in tonic contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle and its vasculature, thereby keeping the penis flaccid.9x9Andersson, K and Stief, C. Penile erection and cardiac risk: pathophysiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 23F–26F
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
For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.

In addition, when research has shown a nutrient such as zinc or niacin to improve sexual function, it's usually in people who are deficient in it. So, before you stock up on over-the-counter nutritional supplements for ED, speak with your doctor. He can test you for deficiencies and steer you toward the most effective and safest way to treat your erectile dysfunction. 
The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. You should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem. You should not stop taking any medication without first consulting your physician.
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
More than 11 million people in the United States have cardiovascular disease, and each year, about 500,000 survive a myocardial infarction. These patients often seek counseling on their relative risk of resuming sexual activity. In the past, it was often assumed that if a patient could climb 2 flights of stairs without symptoms, it was safe for the patient to engage in sexual activity.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
Montorsi F,  Briganti A,  Salonia A,  Rigatti P,  Margonato A,  Macchi A,  Galli S,  Ravagnani PM,  Montorsi P. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease, Eur Urol , 2003, vol. 44 (pg. 360-364)https://doi.org/10.1016/S0302-2838(03)00305-1
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Theoretically, the risk of a cardiac event during sexual activity should be increased. Sexual activity is associated with an elevated heart rate, blood pressure level, and myocardial oxygen demand, and this increase in hemodynamic stress may result in myocardial ischemia.79x79Kimmel, SE. Sex and myocardial infarction: an epidemiologic perspective. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 10F–13F
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
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.

Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with prior cardiac events should be encouraged to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation programs before restarting sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F

One study the authors reviewed measured these changes in middle-aged men with and without coronary artery disease. This study found that the peak heart rate during intercourse was lower than heart rates measured during the patients' normal daily activities. The study participants' peak oxygen consumption levels during intercourse were moderate -- comparable to their oxygen consumption levels during moderate activities such as walking on level ground at 3 to 4 miles per hour, climbing stairs slowly or doing general housework such as vacuuming.
Unlike intraurethral suppositories, intracavernosal injection (IC) injection of vasoactive agents such as PGE-1 has consistently been shown to be effective in the treatment of ED in men with diabetes. In a study of 336 men with diabetes-related ED, 83% of patients reported erections satisfactory for intercourse after IC injection of PGE-1.55 Unfortunately, 24% of these patients also reported penile pain, one of the most common side effects of IC injection therapy. Other studies have noted similar effectiveness rates.56,57
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References As with sildenafil, use of nitrate or NO-donor medications is contraindicated while taking tadalafil because of the potential for marked hypotensive interactions.74x74Gresser, U and Gleiter, CH. Erectile dysfunction: comparison of efficacy and side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil—review of the literature. Eur J Med Res. 2002; 7: 435–446
Diabetes care providers, while becoming more aware of the high prevalence of ED in men with diabetes, may not appreciate the importance of maintaining erectile function to their patients. A recent study by Rance et al.40 underscores the fact that diabetic men, regardless of whether they actually have ED, believe that ED has a major impact on quality of life and that it is as important to treat as many other conditions associated with diabetes. In an effort to determine the relative importance of treatment for ED compared to other diabetic complications, they gave 192 consecutive diabetic men and 51 control patients seen at two hospitals a standardized questionnaire that assessed the relative importance of a number of diabetic complications and the patients' willingness to pay per month to avoid a particular complication.

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.


Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be treated by urologists or other specialists or even by your general practitioner. Your doctor may recommend medication that works by relaxing penis muscles and increasing blood flow into the penis. Other treatments include therapy, implants, surgery and lifestyle changes, like exercising regularly, losing weight and eating right.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References This prolonged excretion half-life produces enhanced erections up to 36 hours after oral dosing, thereby potentially allowing for more spontaneous engagement of intercourse. The efficacy of tadalafil in the treatment of ED has been proved in randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.78x78Porst, H, Padma-Nathan, H, Giuliano, F, Anglin, G, Varanese, L, and Rosen, R. Efficacy of tadalafil for the treatment of erectile dysfunction at 24 and 36 hours after dosing: a randomized controlled trial. Urology. 2003; 62: 121–125
Although the results provide evidence that PDE5 inhibitors may benefit heart health, the retrospective study design makes it impossible to ascertain direct cause and effect, Andersson noted. It is possible that using erectile dysfunction drugs simply indicates a more active sex life, which could itself contribute to, or be a marker of, a heart-healthy lifestyle overall.

The incidence of ED is 42.0–57.0 % in men with CAD and 33.8 % in those who have diabetes with silent ischaemia, compared with 4.7 % in men without silent ischaemia.6 The prevalence of ED is likely to be higher than the reported figures, because men generally do not seek medical advice for ED.6 Erection is thought to be a process that is regulated by hormones and neurovascular mechanisms in cerebral and peripheral levels.7
Erectile dysfunction is a common occurrence in men with diabetes. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, from 5% in men age 20 to 75% in men over age 65. The cause of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes is usually related to a decrease in the blood supply to the penis as well as to injury to the nerves that are responsible for the erection mechanism. A decrease in testosterone production has also been identified as the cause in some men with diabetes.
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