Several other facts support the close relationship between sexual dysfunction and CV disease. Endothelial dysfunction mediated by decreased nitric-oxide bioavailability as well as atherosclerotic lesions constitute a common pathophysiologic substrate affecting both CV disease and erectile dysfunction, a disease considered to be primarily of vascular origin[76,80-82]. Several traditional CV risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and smoking) are frequently found in individuals with erectile dysfunction, conferring a detrimental cardiovascular burden to them. More interestingly, the increased cardiovascular risk observed in those patients is independent of the aforementioned CV risk factors[81-88].

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References In conclusion, sildenafil, when used alone, seems to produce minimal decreases in blood pressure level, which are well tolerated in healthy patients and in those with stable ischemic coronary disease.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References Only 1 published study has investigated the effect of vardenafil on cardiac function.75x75Thadani, U, Smith, W, Nash, S et al. The effect of vardenafil, a potent and highly selective phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, on the cardiovascular response to exercise in patients with coronary artery disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2002; 40: 2006–2012
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.
Penile arterial supply (top) and venous drainage (middle), longitudinal views. Bottom, Transverse and longitudinal views of venous return. From Lue TF. Physiology of penile erection and pathophysiology of erectile dysfunction and priapism. In: Walsh PC, Retik AB, Vaughan ED Jr, Wein AJ, eds. Campbell's Urology. Vol 2. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1998:1157-1179. With permission from Elsevier.

The initial event for normal erectile function is sexual stimulation. Subsequent to processing in the central nervous system neural impulses are conveyed along the spinal cord, exiting through the pelvic parasympathetic preganglionic nerves. These pelvic nerves form the pelvic plexus and send their message through first messenger, acetyl choline, to the cavernosal nerves. The cavernosal nerves enter erectile bodies (corpora cavernosa) (Figure 1). Here, their nerve endings release a second messenger, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide activates the enzyme guanylyl cyclase, which lyses guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to produce a third messenger, the intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Ultimately, the result is a decrease of intracellular calcium and an opening of potassium channels with the resultant relaxation of vascular smooth muscle in the arteries, aterioles, and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa. The sinusoids open and rapidly fill with blood. Finally, the distended sinusoids compress their drainage pathways (venules) against the fibroelastic covering of the cavernosal bodies (tunica albuginea) and trap the blood in cavernosal bodies. The combination of an increased inflow of blood into the penis and coincident markedly diminished outflow results in rapidly increasing intracavernosal pressure that ultimately approximates systolic pressure. At this pressure the penis has sufficient axial rigidity to permit vaginal penetration.
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.
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study of 1,290 men, aged 40–70 years, has documented the extraordinarily high prevalence of erectile dysfunction among aging men: 50% of men at 50 years of age, and 70% by age 70 have erectile dysfunction.2 Furthermore, a recent Italian study of men with severe heart disease has uncovered an astounding 93% with erectile dysfunction 24 months before their heart attack or onset of heart disease symptoms.3
Yohimbe A number of clinical trials have shown that the primary component of this bark from an African tree can improve sexual dysfunction associated with selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression. This herb has been linked to a number of side effects, including increased blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeat, and anxiety. Yohimbe shouldn't be used without a doctor's supervision.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile function relies on the arterial blood supply from the internal pudendal arteries, which are branches of the hypogastric arterial system (Figure 1). Substantial increases in internal pudendal arterial flow result in pressures within the penis that are comparable to systemic arterial levels.12x12Rampin, O and Giuliano, F. Central control of the cardiovascular and erection systems: possible mechanisms and interactions. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 19F–22F
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.

Both erectile dysfunction and heart disease have been linked with impaired activity of nitric oxide, the body’s most powerful vasodilator. An endogenous (produced by the body) compound called asymmetric dimethylarginine is an L-arginine analog, which interferes with the production of nitric oxide and may increase the risk for erectile dysfunction and heart disease.
The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72

Most importantly, herbal supplements are not well regulated in the United States.  Studies have shown that 40-50% of herbal supplements do not even contain the supposed main ingredient, and many contain substances that are not listed which may have dangerous side effects2.  Another study found that over two thirds of the products tested had substituted other plant species for the plants listed on the label, and a third of products also contained other fillers or contaminants3.  A study by the New York State Attorney General of herbal products sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart found that four out of every five products didn’t contain the ingredient they claimed!  Fourteen US states and territories have petitioned Congress to regulate the herbal supplements industry.


Olsson et al. conducted a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group, and flexible dose study in 224 men with ED and one CVD, including IHD (20 %) and hypertension (80 %). This study reported that the sildenafil-treated group showed 71 % improvement in ED compared with the placebo-controlled group (24 %).64 Furthermore, no treatment-related cardiovascular adverse events were reported.65 Conti et al. showed in an early study that sildenafil is an effective treatment for ED in patients with IHD; the majority of patients reported improvement in penile erection with it.66 Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study of patients with ED and stable CAD showed statistically significant improvement with sildenafil versus placebo in both the frequency of penetration and frequency of maintained erections after penetration.67

Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to attain or maintain a penile erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. Cases of ED may be classified as predominantly organic in nature, predominantly psychogenic, or mixed. Usual organic aetiologies are vasculogenic, hormonal, and neurogenic. Owing to the relationship of vasculogenic ED with CVD, it is important to distinguish men with predominantly vasculogenic ED from those with predominantly psychogenic ED or non-vasculogenic organic ED.
In a study by Segal et al. (11), 4 out of 5 healthy individuals were able to achieve tumescence beyond 60% maximum rigidity when subjected to PVS using the Viberect® alone, with no other external visual sexual stimulation. In a randomized controlled study by Fode et al. (12) involving 68 men who underwent nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, 30 men who received PVS to the frenulum daily for 6 weeks, using the Ferticare® vibrator, showed a trend towards better erections. After 1 year, 53% in the PVS group had an IIEF score ≥18 compared with 32% in the control group, although no statistical achievement was achieved. The role of PVS in penile rehabilitation is based on the postulation that PVS provides early activation of the parasympathetic erectile spinal centres at S2–S4 level, which result in early recovery of the neuropraxic cavernosal nerves.
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.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the persistent inability to attain and maintain an erection that is sufficient to permit satisfactory sexual performance (1). The current pharmaco-therapeutic research in ED focuses on underlying endothelial dysfunction as the root cause for ED and introduction of phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors to potentiate nitric oxide (NO) action and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation, has revolutionized modern ED treatment over the past two decades (2). In contrast to Western Medicine, the traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) aims at restoration and better overall bodily regulation with medicine to invigorate qi (energy) in vital organs such as kidney, spleen and liver; to enhance physical fitness, increase sexual drive, stabilize the mind and improve the overall situation resulting in natural and harmonious sexual life (3).
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).
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
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References All these men had ED and twice underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle exercise echocardiography 1 hour after taking either sildenafil (50 mg or 100 mg) or placebo. This study found no significant changes in resting heart rate, diastolic blood pressure level, or wall motion score index, and the exercise capacity of the 2 groups was similar. Both groups had similar numbers of patients who experienced dyspnea and/or chest pain, had a positive exercise echocardiographic test, and had exercise-induced wall motion abnormalities. Sildenafil caused a mean decrease of 7 mm Hg in the resting systolic blood pressure level compared with the placebo group. In conclusion, this study showed that in patients with stable coronary artery disease, sildenafil caused no change in symptoms, exercise endurance, or presence/extent of exercise-induced ischemia as measured by exercise echocardiography.
With atherosclerosis, the blood vessels are not able to dilate properly, which is called endothelial dysfunction (see the Figure). Cholesterol builds up in the blood vessel walls and forms plaques, which make the vessels narrow and slow down blood flow. When a plaque becomes very advanced, it can completely stop blood from passing through, which is what happens in a heart attack. Atherosclerosis affects not only the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries), but also blood vessels throughout the entire body. Atherosclerosis causes angina (chest pain that is often exertional), heart attacks, strokes, claudication (pain in the legs with walking), and ED. Atherosclerosis affects different people in different places, but it often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain, and the legs last. Because the first stage of atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, usually affects the penis first, ED can be a warning sign that a heart attack or a stroke may follow, often in the next 3 to 5 years. This warning sign can be a good thing if it alerts you and your doctor that you have atherosclerosis, because then you can take steps to treat the atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack or stroke.
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (49) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, cigar smoking and passive exposure to cigarette smoke have been shown to significantly predict onset 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
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.
Keep your stress level down. Stress can interfere with sexual arousal and your ability to get an erection. Exercise, meditation, and setting aside time to do the things that you enjoy can help to keep your stress levels down and lessen your risk of ED. If you’re developing symptoms of anxiety or depression, consult your doctor. They may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help you work through anything that is causing you stress.
When it comes to boosting sexual performance, many men will walk all over God’s green earth looking for ways to maintain a good sex life. Luckily men, all you have to do is walk — not run — 2 miles a day. This, along with other healthier lifestyle interventions can help obese men reduce their risk of ED, or even “reverse” current impotence, according to a 2005 study. This comes of importance, since maintaining a trim waistline is a good defense for ED, as men with a 42-inch waist are 50 percent more likely to have ED than those with a 32-inch waist. Getting to a healthy weight and maintaining it is a good strategy for preventing and treating ED.

Having ED means that all, most, or some of the time, the penis fails to become or stay hard enough for sexual intercourse. If, on rare occasions, you cannot get an erection, you do not have ED. You also do not have ED if you have a decrease in sexual desire, have premature ejaculation, or if you fail to ejaculate or reach orgasm. ED means that you can’t get or keep an erection.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Postulated mechanisms of effect on sexual function with these centrally acting medications have included increased prolactin levels and a direct effect on α2-adrenergic receptors in the central nervous system.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Vision changes are described most frequently as an increased perception of bright lights, a blue-green tinge to observed colors, or blurred vision. Sildenafil has no direct effect on platelet function but potentiates the inhibitory effect of sodium nitroprusside on adenosine diphosphate–induced platelet aggregation ex vivo.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
There are no studies specifically assessing the effectiveness of intraurethral suppositories of prostaglandin E1 (PGE-1) in diabetic men. A single randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of this agent in the general population of men with ED documented that 60% of those who tried this agent were able to achieve successful sexual intercourse.53 Unfortunately, in clinical practice, this agent appears to be considerably less effective.54
Penile erection is largely a vascular process, and the penile endothelium and smooth muscle tissue are very sensitive to functional and structural changes. Vasculogenic ED results from an impairment of endothelial dependent or independent smooth muscle relaxation (functional vascular ED, initial stages), occlusion of the cavernosal arteries by atherosclerosis (structural vascular ED, late stages), or a combination of these.3 Current data support a complex interplay between endothelial dysfunction, subclinical inflammation, and androgen deficiency (Figure 1). The relationship between ED and CAD at the clinical level is supported by this common pathophysiological basis. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis explains why patients with CAD frequently report ED before CAD detection.10 According to this hypothesis, for a given atherosclerotic burden, the smaller penile arteries suffer obstruction earlier than the larger coronary arteries (Figure 2). The same concept holds also true in the case of non-obstructing atherosclerosis: since the smaller penile artery have a greater endothelial surface and erection requires a large degree of vasodilation to occur when compared with arteries in other organs, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction will be symptomatic in these smaller vessels but subclinical in the larger ones (i.e. coronaries). In the same context, accelerated arterial ageing (as indicated by increased arterial stiffening that also affects large arteries of ED patients) may be a common background.11,12 Erectile dysfunction is associated with an incremental inflammatory and endothelial-pro-thrombotic activation.13 Interestingly, this activation is equal to that found in CAD patients with no ED, while when these two conditions are combined the burden is additive. Androgen deficiency may be also implicated in the common pathogenetic pathways of ED and CVD; however, this warrants further substantiation.2

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].
There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
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