Figure. Progression of atherosclerosis. Endothelial dysfunction occurs early in atherosclerosis and prevents blood vessels from dilating properly. When the blood vessels that supply the penis are not able to dilate during sexual stimulation because of endothelial dysfunction, the penis cannot fill with blood, and the man develops erectile dysfunction. As atherosclerosis progresses, plaques build up in blood vessels and blood flow is slowed, further worsening erectile function. A heart attack occurs when an atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, a blood clot forms over the plaque, and blood flow to the heart muscle is completely blocked. Atherosclerotic risk factors (black arrows) worsen cardiovascular health; modification of these risk factors (red arrows) improves cardiovascular health.
Penile prosthesis is a viable option for men who cannot use sildenafil and who find the injections or vacuum erection therapy distasteful. A non-adjustable semi-rigid prosthesis is easy to insert and has no postoperative mechanical problems. The inflatable prosthesis has a pump that is put in the testicular sac for on-demand inflation and deflation. Future versions will have a remote control device similar to a garage-door opener.
Logically, ED secondary to testosterone deficiency should be treated by testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels in men decrease with age.4 Both epidemiological and observational studies have demonstrated that reduced testosterone is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. One meta-analysis showed lower testosterone and higher 17β oestradiol as significant risk predictors despite adjustment for age and body mass index.4 Patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) have been found to have lower testosterone levels than controls, and there is inverse correlation between testosterone and the incidence of major cardiovascular disease (CVD).4 A significant negative correlation has been reported between total testosterone levels and Framingham risk score.4 However, it has been pointed out that ‘It is unclear if this is a causal association or due to low testosterone being a biomarker of poor health’.4 Testosterone replacement as a treatment for …
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual problem affecting many men irrespective of cultures, beliefs and nationalities. While medical therapy for ED has been revolutionized by the advent of oral phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors and intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents, recent technological advances such stem cell therapy, low intensity shock wave and newer generation of penile prosthesis implant offer hope to men who do not respond to conventional medical therapy. In contrast, traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) focuses on the restoration and better overall bodily regulation with the use of various herbal and animal products as well as exercises to invigorate qi (energy) in vital organs. Western medicine involves an analysis of ED symptom and underlying causes that contribute to ED, while TCM emphases the concept of holism and harmonization of body organs to achieve natural sexual life. The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western Medicine and TCM.
A follow-up study from the ExCEED database compared men with ED and prostate cancer to men with ED without prostate cancer and found that the prostate cancer survivors had worse erectile function but reported better quality of life than those without prostate cancer.37 The authors hypothesized that the prostate cancer survivors were able to “rationalize” away their sexual dysfunction with the knowledge that they may have been “cured” of their prostate cancer. Clearly, diabetic men could not use the same rationale.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References Vardenafil has been shown to be significantly more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to diabetes mellitus and after radical retropubic prostatectomy.69x69Goldstein, I, Young, JM, Fischer, J, Bangerter, K, Segerson, T, Taylor, T, and Vardenafil Diabetes Study Group. Vardenafil, a new phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes: a multicenter double-blind placebo-controlled fixed-dose study. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26: 777–783


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
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.

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.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Different classes of β-blockers have been postulated to have differential effects on erectile function, with the nonselective β-blockers (eg, propranolol) having more deleterious effects than the more cardioselective medications (eg, atenolol, metoprolol).42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
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.

It is recommended that testosterone be measured in patients with ED because low levels are a reliable measure of hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is not only a treatable cause of ED, but can also lead to reduced or lack of response to PDE5 inhibitors.73 Testosterone deficiency is also associated with increased cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.74 Levels >350 ng/dl do not usually require replacement, but in patients with testosterone <230 ng/dl, replacement can usually be beneficial.57 In patients with congestive heart failure, testosterone replacement can lead to fluid retention, so caution is advised. In these patients, the aim should be to keep testosterone levels in the middle range, i.e. 350–600 ng/dl.57
The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
Diuretics: Also called water pills, this medication is a common treatment for reducing blood pressure. They work by getting rid of unnecessary water and salt in the urine. This essentially helps lower blood pressure and can make it easier for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, diuretics can reduce the blood flow to the penis, making erections difficult to achieve. Zinc levels have been known to diminish due to diuretic use, which may lead to a decreased production of overall testosterone.
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.

Diabetes is known to sabotage two body parts that provide essential components of an erection: nerves and blood vessels. Studies suggest that diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) is the most important risk factor for ED in people with diabetes. If pelvic nerves that trigger penis muscles to relax are impaired, there may be a break in the chain between brain and penis, disrupting erection. Some researchers suspect that an inadequate supply of oxygen to the nerves causes this damage.
Physical and emotional stress — whether over-exercising, under-sleeping or just dealing with everyday stressors like work and a busy schedule — causes an increase in “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline. Stress can lower desire for sex. This is because stress can contribute to fatigue or preoccupation with other tasks. It can also significantly affect blood flow by increasing inflammation.

In TCM, the meridian system is thought to represent a path through which the life energy qi flows and as discussed in earlier section, the “Jing” (kidney) qi plays an important role in penile erection. Acupuncture helps to correct the imbalances to relieve physical symptoms by stimulating various meridian points. The Shensu (BL23), Zusanli (ST36) and Neiguan (PC6) points represents important acupoints for penis stimulation and thus has a positive homeostatic effect on the autonomic nervous system, and potentially modulate NO release (55,56). While some studies have showed up to a third of patients reported improvement in penile erection and sexual activity, systematic review showed insufficient data to conclude that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED (56,57). Therefore, further scientific research is required to investigate whether there are specific benefits of acupuncture for men with ED before acupuncture can be accepted as evidence-based practice.
Logically, ED secondary to testosterone deficiency should be treated by testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels in men decrease with age.4 Both epidemiological and observational studies have demonstrated that reduced testosterone is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. One meta-analysis showed lower testosterone and higher 17β oestradiol as significant risk predictors despite adjustment for age and body mass index.4 Patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) have been found to have lower testosterone levels than controls, and there is inverse correlation between testosterone and the incidence of major cardiovascular disease (CVD).4 A significant negative correlation has been reported between total testosterone levels and Framingham risk score.4 However, it has been pointed out that ‘It is unclear if this is a causal association or due to low testosterone being a biomarker of poor health’.4 Testosterone replacement as a treatment for …
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References After adjusting for age, vascular disease, psychiatric disease, hormonal factors, and marital status, a study of 4462 US Army veterans aged 31 to 49 years found an odds ratio of 1.8 for the risk of developing ED in men who smoked.26x26Mannino, DM, Klevens, RM, and Flanders, WD. Cigarette smoking: an independent risk factor for impotence?. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 1003–1008
Ginseng is the most common ingredient among top-selling supplements for men’s sexual health (36). The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen. Ren means “person” and shen means “plant root”. This plant has been named in this manner as its roots resemble the lower limbs of a human, Traditionally, ginseng has been used to restore and enhance the normal well-being of the body. The effects are due to ginseng’s reactions with the central nervous system, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular system. The principal active compounds are triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Animal studies have suggested that specific ginsenosides may be responsible for ginseng-mediated effects on copulatory behavior (37). Ginsenoside induces smooth muscle relaxation by hyperpolarizing the smooth muscle membrane via activation of large-conductance KCa channels (38).

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References They evaluated 40 patients with coronary artery disease who underwent coronary artery catheterization and whose penile brachial index (PBI) was measured by Doppler ultrasonography. Although a positive correlation was noted between the PBI and the severity of coronary artery obstruction, the relationship was not strong. Also, the degree of PBI abnormality did not effectively stratify the patients according to the severity of their coronary artery blockage. This study concluded that the PBI used alone would not be an effective predictor of ischemic heart disease.
Testosterone therapy (TTh) should be reserved for patients who (i) are symptomatic (ED or reduced libido) of testosterone deficiency45 and (ii) they have biochemical evidence of low testosterone (TT <8 nmol/L or 2.3 ng/mL). In men with borderline TT (8–12 nmol/L or 2.3–3.5 ng/mL), a TTh trial (for 3–6 months and continuation if effective) may be envisaged. While adding a PDE5 inhibitor can be considered in men who have not improved with TTh, the usual clinical scenario is to add TTh in patients who have not responded to PDE5 inhibitors. Improvement is dependent on the testosterone levels with better results being obtained at lower levels of TT.45 Despite evidence of benefit in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure), it should be emphasized that TTh is not a medication with cardiovascular indications.
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.
Quassinoids isolated from Tongkat Ali have been reputed to be anti-tumor, anti-malarial, anti-amoebic and anti-inflammatory. Its leaves are used for washing itches, its fruits for the treatment of dysentery, its bark used as a vermifuge, the taproots used for treatment of hypertension and the root bark for treatment of diarrhea and fever. The roots extracts are used for sexual dysfunction, aging, malaria, cancer, diabetes, anxiety, aches, constipation, exercise recovery, fever, increased energy, increased strength, leukemia, osteoporosis, stress and syphilis. Animal studies done on middle age sex rats showed enhancement of the sexual qualities in terms of hesitation time among middle aged rats (46).
Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Erections result from relaxation of the corpora cavernosa, which is mediated either by increasing intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) or cyclic adenosine monophosphate or by inhibition of their degradation. Increased parasympathetic tone results in a decrease in norepinephrine release and an increase in the release of acetylcholine; subsequently, NO synthase activity increases, which releases NO from both endothelial cells and nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurons.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
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. 
Based on this testing, EDDM patients were treated with behavioral therapy, intracavernosal (papaverine, PGE-1, or Trimix) or intraurethral PGE-1, a vacuum constriction device (VCD), or implantation of a penile prosthesis. Novel surgical procedures, ligation of incompetent cavernosal veins or penile revascularization, were seldom efficacious with EDDM and were soon abandoned. Although these nonsurgical therapies were efficacious, they were not widely requested because of their invasive or mechanical nature.

If your doctor says it's OK, you may be able to stop taking blood pressure medications temporarily to see if your sex life improves. To make sure your blood pressure remains within a safe range, you may need frequent blood pressure readings while you're not taking the blood pressure lowering medication that may be causing your sexual difficulties. This can be done with a home blood pressure monitoring device for convenience.

If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
Control your blood sugar through your diet. Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will help you better control your blood sugar levels and lessen the amount of damage to your blood vessels and nerves. A proper diet geared at keeping your blood sugar levels in check can also improve your energy levels and mood, both of which can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. You may consider working with a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to help adjust your eating style.

Although DM patients often correctly assume that their ED is of organic origin, a psychogenic component should be considered, especially in the younger patient. If this is the case, the patient may benefit from psychosocial therapy that includes anxiety reduction and desensitization, cognitivebehavioral intervention, sexual stimulation techniques, and interpersonal assertiveness with couples communication training.6 Not all healthcare providers offer these options. Freudian-based psychotherapy for EDDM has not been proved to be efficacious.


Penile prosthesis is a viable option for men who cannot use sildenafil and who find the injections or vacuum erection therapy distasteful. A non-adjustable semi-rigid prosthesis is easy to insert and has no postoperative mechanical problems. The inflatable prosthesis has a pump that is put in the testicular sac for on-demand inflation and deflation. Future versions will have a remote control device similar to a garage-door opener.
Penile prosthesis implant remains the most effective and permanent treatment for ED. Penile prosthesis implants can be broadly divided into malleable and inflatable prostheses (20). Malleable penile prosthesis, also known as semi-rigid prosthesis, does not allow for (physiological) flaccid state of the penis. The patient can bend the prosthesis upwards for sexual intercourse and downwards for concealment. Although the angle of prosthesis concealment has improved with recent devices, however due to the constant rigid state of the penis, they are still less comfortable compared to their inflatable counterparts, are more likely to cause social embarrassment and associated with higher risk of implant erosions (21). However, malleable prosthesis still has its place for the treatment of ED as these implants are easier to handle, easier to place and would benefit patients with impaired manual dexterity.
Treatments might be slightly different for different people, depending on their risk factors, but in general all treatment plans have similar elements: diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary (see the Table). Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of the treatment of atherosclerosis. Every diet should include low salt (especially for high blood pressure), low fat and cholesterol (especially for high cholesterol), and limited total calories (especially for patients who are overweight). People with diabetes mellitus should limit their intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise helps to limit atherosclerosis. The more exercise, the better, but every little bit helps. The general recommendation is 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Check with your doctor to be sure that an exercise program is safe for you. Cigarettes cause a variety of health problems, including atherosclerosis, so cigarette smoking should be stopped. If diet and exercise are not enough to control your atherosclerotic risk factors, then your doctor will prescribe medications. Heart attacks are prevented by controlling atherosclerotic risk factors, which means diet, exercise, and medications if necessary.

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References The 9-year follow-up MMAS study also found that self-reported increased cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake correlated positively with the development of ED.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


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Possible etiologies for ED secondary to hypertension include vascular damage due to hypertensive changes as well as hormonal abnormalities such as elevated prolactin levels.30x30Jaffe, A, Chen, Y, Kisch, ES, Fischel, B, Alon, M, and Stern, N. Erectile dysfunction in hypertensive subjects: assessment of potential determinants. Hypertension. 1996; 28: 859–862
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References When used in combination with NO-donor medications such as nitroglycerin, the modest blood pressure effects of sildenafil are potentiated, resulting in a significant decrease in systolic (21-55 mm Hg) and diastolic (up to 26 mm Hg) blood pressure levels, as well as vasodilatory symptoms such as headache, light-headedness, and nausea.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.
In most men, ED is recognised as sharing vascular aetiology with IHD.17 ED and IHD share common risk factors, such as hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, obesity, lack of physical exercise, cigarette smoking, poor diet, excess alcohol consumption and psychological stress, including depression.30 Endothelial dysfunction has been implicated as a common mechanism between CAD and ED and it has an important role in the development of atherosclerosis.31

The links between hypertension and ED are increasingly recognized and the 2009 re-appraisal of European guidelines includes relevant statements.35,47 Erectile dysfunction is almost twice as frequent in hypertensive as in normotensive individuals and appears to be of higher severity. The relative risk of developing ED in hypertensive patients compared with normotensive individuals ranges from 1.3 to 6.9. Regarding pathophysiology, hypertension appears to cause ED per se, through a multitude of mechanisms that include prolonged exposure to elevated levels of systemic blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction, and circulation of vasoactive substance (with a pivotal role of angiotensin II) that lead to structural and functional alterations in the penile arteries. The largely unfounded (see earlier paragraph) notoriety of antihypertensive treatment for causing ED is one of the most predominant causes for non-adherence and discontinuation of antihypertensive therapy, and therefore, patients should be properly informed by physicians. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are effective in hypertensive patients with ED and they can safely be co-administered with antihypertensive medication.39 Specifically for alpha-blockers, low starting doses of PDE5 inhibitors are preferred in patients already on alpha-blocker treatment, and likewise, low starting doses of alpha-blockers are encouraged in patients taking PDE5 inhibitors. Of clinical significance is that hypertensive men with ED are more likely to comply with their antihypertensive medication when under PDE5 inhibitors.
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.
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.

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.
×