Adequate cavernosal arterial inflow is necessary for penile erection. Arterial morphology,28 flow,29 and diameter30 differ between diabetic and nondiabetic populations with ED. BB and STZ-induced diabetic rats exhibit impairment of endothelium-mediated vascular smooth muscle relaxation, and proposed mechanisms include changes in the expression, activity, or post-translational modification of endothelial NOS.31

Three longitudinal studies have estimated incidence rates of ED in men with diabetes. Unfortunately, none of these studies specifically examined men with type 2 disease. In a cohort of 278 diabetic men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes potent at study entry, the proportion of patients reporting ED at 5-year follow-up was 28%.7 A follow-up analysis of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, a community-based cohort of men between 40 and 70 years of age, found that the incidence of ED in the diabetic men was 51/1,000 population-years.8 This figure was similar to the 68/1,000 person-years crude incidence rate of ED reported in a study of 1,010 men with diabetes.5 However, new studies need to be carried out in well-characterized populations of men with diabetes in order to better determine the incidence of ED and potential effects of interventions to reduce complications.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277
The development of PDE5-inhibitors is a clear example of how Western medicine approached the problem of ED differently from Eastern medicine. The erectogenic effect of sildenafil (Viagra®) was discovered by accident when patients undergoing heart clinical trials reported better erections as a side effect after taking sildenafil. This observation led to further elucidation of the NO/cGMP signalling pathway and development of PDE5-inhibitors as a first-line therapy in ED (5).
The aetiology of predominantly psychogenic ED is multifactorial, and components may include psychiatric disorders (especially depression), interpersonal problems with the sexual partner or misconceptions about normal sexual activity. Identifying and getting treatment for those patients with psychogenic causes of ED such as depression that may also increase CVD risk is also important.

Despite all the options and alternatives, sometimes there’s no suitable alternative to a prescription that contributes to ED. You might have an adverse reaction to an particular medication or an alternative is unavailable in your state, health insurance plan, or your budget. There are good reasons you were prescribed your original medication in the first place.


Most studies into the effect of beta-blockers on ED point to negative effects of first- and second-generation beta-blockers, while beta-blockers with vasodilating effects can improve erectile function. Alpha-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors seem to have a neutral effect on erectile function. Multiple previous studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect of angiotensin receptor blockers on erectile function and they should probably be the favoured antihypertensive agents in patients with ED.29
PDE-5 inhibitors amplify the intacavernosal production of cGMP in response to nitric oxide. This is achieved through the inhibition of cGMP's breakdown by the enzyme, PDE-5. If the predominant abnormality in the individual EDDM patient is molecular, the higher tissue levels of cGMP will overcome these inhibitory factors and the patient will regain erectile function. If the physical structure (eg, the compliance) of the cavernosal tissue has been significantly compromised by apoptosis of smooth muscle or increased collagen deposits, restoration of erectile function will not be achieved. These structural changes explain the lower efficacy rates of PDE-5 inhibitors in EDDM than in the general population.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (443) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitroglycerin and other NO donors work through the same NO-cGMP pathway that sildenafil affects, thereby decreasing vascular resistance and blood pressure level.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of heart disease. An erection is caused by engorgement of blood into the penile tissues which later becomes rigid for penetration. Men with heart problem suffer from an inadequate blood flow to the smooth tissues of the penis to achieve erection. A major cardiovascular disease known as Atherosclerosis is a result of fat accumulation in the arterial blood vessels. This build up of multiple plaques or fatty material causes the arteries to narrow and harden thus limiting blood flow. The arteries supplying your penis are smaller than those supplying your heart. In fact, ED can be an initial symptom of heart diseases like Atherosclerosis. Cardiovascular problems can also damage penile nerves and arteries, inhibiting erectile function. Experts found a consistent link between ED and heart disease. Other recent research conducted by health professionals has shown a direct connection between erection dysfunctions and heart problems.

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


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.


To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.

Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.

A component of the increased risk conferred by ED could be testosterone deficiency.24 Low testosterone leads to increased levels of total and LDL cholesterol, as well as to increased production of pro-inflammatory markers and mediators.25 Endothelial dysfunction and increased arterial wall thickness, stiffening, and calcification also ensue. On this basis it has been hypothesized that chronically lowered testosterone may increase CVD risk. Indeed, androgen deficiency has emerged as a predictor of CV events, as well as of all-cause and CV mortality, both in the general population and in patients with CV risk factors, with hypertension, with established CVD, and with ED.26 Viewed from the opposite angle, higher serum testosterone showed a protective role for CV events in elderly men.27 A 2010 meta-analysis limited to studies in middle-aged men found no association between total testosterone (TT) levels and CVD risk.28 However, a more recent meta-analysis involving a larger number of studies identified significant associations between androgen deficiency and increased risk of CVD and CVD mortality.29 It should be stressed, however, that the nature of these studies cannot prove causality. The possibility that low testosterone may be an epiphenomenon, marking poor general health rather than modulating CVD risk per se has to be explored.
In a prospective human phase 1 open-label and single-arm study reported by Haahr et al. (27), 17 men with refractory post radical prostatectomy ED were given a single intracavernosal injection of autologous adipose-derived regenerative cells (ADRCs) freshly isolated after a liposuction. The procedures were well-tolerated and over a 6-month follow-up period, 8 of 17 men showed improvement of their erectile function.

The research is based on a Swedish national database of health records that includes all hospitals in Sweden. Researchers analyzed the records of men age 80 years or younger who were hospitalized for a first heart attack between 2007 and 2013. Tracking the men for an average of 3.3 years following this first heart attack, they compared outcomes among those who subsequently filled a prescription for a PDE5 inhibitor or alprostadil to those who did not. Overall just over 7 percent of men were prescribed an erectile dysfunction drug, 92 percent of whom were prescribed a PDE5 inhibitor and 8 percent of whom were prescribed alprostadil.


Ischaemic heart disease (IHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a predominant manifestation of cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, accounting for 17.3 million deaths globally every year; this figure is expected to grow to 23.6 million by the year 2030. Eighty per cent of these deaths occur in lower- and middle-income countries.5 ED and IHD are highly prevalent and occur concomitantly because they share the same risk factors, including diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, obesity and smoking.
Nehra A,  Jackson G,  Miner M,  Billups KL,  Burnett AL,  Buvat J,  Carson CC,  Cunningham GR,  Ganz P,  Goldstein I,  Guay AT,  Hackett G,  Kloner RA,  Kostis J,  Montorsi P,  Ramsey M,  Rosen R,  Sadovsky R,  Seftel AD,  Shabsigh R,  Vlachopoulos C,  Wu FC. The Princeton III Consensus recommendations for the management of erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, Mayo Clin Proc , 2012, vol. 87 (pg. 766-778)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.06.015

Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. "It's not a great drug," says McCullough. "And I suspect the herb is not as potent as the pharmaceutical version." What's more, evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine's effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects. Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor's supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
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Branded Viagra can now be bought over the counter in pharmacies, but please check with your GP first if you have a medical condition. It's important to use a reputable pharmacy, as there is a large market in counterfeit drugs for erectile dysfunction, especially over the internet. These contain varying amounts of the active ingredient and sometimes completely different drugs.
Viagra, Cialis, Levita, and Staxyn all work in a similar fashion and make it physically possible to get an erection when aroused. However, men whose blood pressure is poorly controlled and who take alpha-blockers for high blood pressure treatment should not take any of these treatments for erectile dysfunction as it may reduce blood pressure to critically low levels, causing fainting or sudden death. Also, you may be prohibited to use these drugs if you demonstrate any of the following:

Alcohol consumption, bad nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive stress, psychological issues, relationship issues, use of illegal drugs and overuse of prescribed drugs, poor sleep habits and excessive physical activity are all contributing factors to ED. Ailments like diabetes, as well as low and high blood pressure, in addition to prostate cancer, may also result in ED.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is found predominantly in the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa but can be found in smaller quantities in platelets and other vascular smooth muscle.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
The second way relates to the risk associated with the sexual activity in a patient with either overt or occult CVD. In this case, the diagnosis of ED should prompt an initial cardiovascular assessment based on the history and clinical examination in order to define the baseline risk according to (i) the likelihood of silent CAD18,31 (especially since ED patients have a high probability to have silent CAD) or to the stage of clinically evident CAD, (ii) other cardiovascular conditions either unrelated, or related to ED (e.g. heart failure, peripheral arterial disease).
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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References Most adverse effects are mild and are related primarily to vasodilation (headache, flushing, nasal congestion), gastrointestinal disturbances (dyspepsia), or retinal effects such as vision changes.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

Having your current medication checked – if you are taking medication already, it could be that your erection problems are a side effect. Have a doctor check whether this is the cause of your problems and if it is, you might be able to switch medications and then find that your erectile dysfunction goes away completely – or at least improves. Medications that can cause erection problems include:

To reduce the risk of side effects from these medications, including sexual problems, take medications exactly as prescribed. If you still have side effects, talk to your doctor about other possible medications that may have fewer side effects. On the other hand, you should not take any medication that promotes and erection while on medication to lower blood pressure.

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.


Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.
Due to their vasorelaxing effect, administration of PDE-5 inhibitors in hypertensive individuals was initially confronted with great suspicion. A wealth of clinical data however has proven that PDE-5 inhibitors are associated with few side effects and provoke a small and insignificant reduction in blood pressure with minimal heart rate alterations in both normotensive and hypertensive patients as well. As a matter of fact, they can be safely and effectively administered to hypertensive individuals even when they are already taking multiple antihypertensive agents[51-56]. The sole exception to the rule is co-administration with organic nitrates, which is an absolute contraindication due to profound and possibly hazardous hypotension effect[57,58]. Moreover, precaution should be taken when PDE-5 inhibitors are combined with a-blockers where, due to possible orthostatic hypotension effect, lower starting doses should be implemented in the therapeutic regime[59-62].
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Attainment and maintenance of a firm erection requires good arterial inflow of blood and efficient trapping of venous outflow. Therefore, disease processes that affect the function of the arterial and venous systems would be expected to negatively affect erectile function. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in the male population and is especially evident with increasing age. The interplay of cardiovascular health and sexual function includes the risk of cardiac events precipitated by the physical exertion of sexual activity and by some medications, such as sildenafil, on the cardiovascular system. An estimated 500,000 patients survive a myocardial infarction each year in the United States, and an estimated 11 million patients have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients.8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409

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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile dysfunction is a common physiological disorder. According to estimates from the National Institutes of Health, ED affects 10 million to 20 million men in the United States; another 10 million men are affected by partial ED, defined as present but diminished erectile function.2x2NIH Consensus Development Panel on Impotence. NIH Consensus Conference: impotence. JAMA. 1993; 270: 83–90

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
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).
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.

In another scientific article published in 2015 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, respondents who were not taking cholesterol-lowering medication experienced an average 42 mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol and an average decrease in triglycerides of 79.5 mg/dl about one year after switching to a Nutritarian diet. Furthermore, case histories presented in that publication documented atherosclerosis reversal.7
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.
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