Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, affecting almost 40% of men over 40 years of age (with varying degrees of severity) and increases in frequency with age.1 Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease (CVD) share common risk factors including age, hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, insulin resistance and diabetes, smoking, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sedentary lifestyle, and depression.2 Cardiovascular disease and ED also share a common pathophysiological basis of aetiology and progression.3 Numerous studies have established that ED (i) is frequent in men with established CVD, (ii) co-exists with occult coronary artery disease (CAD) and (iii) is an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular (CV) events both in men with established CVD and in men with no known CVD.2,4,5 In the latter group, ED precedes CAD, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease by a significant period that usually ranges from 2 to 5 years (average 3 years).2 Although the ED patient can be managed by various medical specialties, and preferably a collaborative approach is most effective, this review is oriented to the cardiologist. While this review deals exclusively with sexual health of men, female sexual health and its potential relation with CVD is also an interesting, yet underexplored, field. As in men, moderating common risk factors seems to improve female sexual health and may serve as an opportunity to decrease CVD risk, with the identification of sexual dysfunction being the starting point.6
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.
Treatment of ED which was previously confined to invasive procedures, cavernosal injections or to rather ineffective oral medications was revolutionized in 1999 with the introduction of the orally administered PDE5 inhibitor sildenafil. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors are the first-line therapy for ED of organic aetiology unless there is a specific contraindication to their use. This class of agents is widely used because of its effectiveness and safety.38 Interactions with cardiovascular drugs have been minimal with the exception of nitrates and other nitric oxide (NO) donors (such as nicorandil), where co-administration may result in severe vasodilation and hypotension. However, nitrates are often overused in clinical practice; therefore, the option of their discontinuation should be considered. A strong body of clinical data shows that all three agents (sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil) do not increase the risk of non-fatal myocardial infarction, stroke, or cardiovascular deaths. These drugs do not exacerbate ischaemia or worsen exercise tolerance in patients with known CAD who achieve levels of exercise comparable or greater than that achieved during sexual intercourse.38,39 Phosphodiesterase type 5 is expressed throughout the human body, including the pulmonary and systemic vasculature and hypertrophied myocardium. While currently their only additional indication, beyond ED, is idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (for sildenafil and tadalafil), they show potential to be of benefit in several other conditions, such as CAD and systolic heart failure.39 Mechanisms of benefit of PDE5 inhibitors include pulmonary and systemic vasodilation, increased myocardial contractility, reduced large artery stiffness and wave reflections, improved endothelial function, and reduced apoptosis, fibrosis and hypertrophy through mechanisms involving NO, cyclic guanosine monophosphate, protein kinase G and Rho kinase.39 A very important issue is whether treatment of ED per se (and not of its risk factors and comorbidities) will have an impact on cardiovascular risk. While this applies to all therapeutic modalities of ED, it is particularly pertinent for PDE5 inhibitors, since they represent the mainstay of ED therapy. Data are limited to date. Gazzaruso et al.21 showed a trend of PDE5 inhibitors to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in diabetic patients with silent CAD and ED, while Frantzen et al.40 showed that 2 years after the introduction of sildenafil, the relative risk of the incidence of CVD among men with ED compared with healthy men significantly decreased from 1.7 to 1.1.

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.”
For those patients who cannot take erectile dysfunction medications, the authors counsel that an exercise training regimen may be an appropriate substitute therapy to enhance sexual function and quality of life. The authors stress that clinicians should focus on the sexual activity history of chronic heart failure patients and not ignore it, since addressing this element can substantially improve their quality of life.
Some research even suggests the effect of blood pressure drugs may be more psychological than physical. When ED occurs after a man begins to take a new medication, it's possible that anxiety about his health, rather than the medication, may trigger the problem. And being aware of possible side effects may make a man more likely to recognize them as abnormal.
Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought "enhanced penile tip rigidity." Experts aren't sure how ginseng might work, though it's thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. "I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED]," says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (105) | Google ScholarSee all References Aspirin and β-blocker use have been suggested to decrease the risk of cardiovascular events with sexual activity, although their benefit has not been proved definitively.79x79Kimmel, SE. Sex and myocardial infarction: an epidemiologic perspective. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 10F–13F
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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.

Erectile dysfunction started to become a household term after scientists discovered a drug to treat it. Nowadays, as anyone who watches TV can attest, there are several different medications for ED. Fifty to 70 percent of men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes respond to a class of drugs—including sildenafil (Viagra), var­denafil hydrochloride (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis)—called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors.

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.
When these drugs don't work, there are other options. Medications that dilate blood vessels, such as alprostadil, can be injected or deposited in the penis; they work in more than 80 percent of men with diabetes. Beyond that, penile implants can be an effective surgical solution. Implants are either malleable rods, which can be manually adjusted to the desired position, or inflatable cylinders that fill with fluid when a pump under the skin of the scrotum is pressed.

Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Other candidate mechanisms linking ED and cigarette smoking include hypercoagulability and increased platelet aggregation, increased release of free fatty acids and catecholamines, changes in NO synthetic pathways, and a possible direct toxic effect on vascular endothelium.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (164) | Google ScholarSee all References Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown vardenafil to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to a wide range of other etiologies as well.71x71Hellstrom, WJ, Gittelman, M, Karlin, G..., and Vardenafil Study Group. Sustained efficacy and tolerability of vardenafil, a highly potent selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in men with erectile dysfunction: results of a randomized, double-blind, 26-week placebo-controlled pivotal trial. Urology. 2003; 61: 8–14
Erectile dysfunction is common in the CVD patient. It is an important component of the quality of life and it also confers an independent risk for future CV events. The usual 3-year time frame between the onset of ED symptoms and a CV event offers an opportunity for risk mitigation. Thus, sexual function should be incorporated into CVD risk assessment for all men. Algorithms for the management of patient with ED have been proposed according to the risk for sexual activity and future CV events. A comprehensive approach to cardiovascular risk reduction (comprising of both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment) improves overall vascular health, including sexual function. Proper sexual counselling improves the quality of life and increases adherence to medication. Testosterone assessment may be useful for both diagnosis of ED, risk stratification and further management. There are issues to be addressed, such as whether PDE5 inhibition reduces CV risk. Management of ED requires a collaborative approach and the role of the cardiologist is pivotal.

With early detection, doctors can suggest preventive measures like statins, blood pressure meds, revamping eating habits and getting more exercise. Try these two exercises that can cut your risk of heart disease in half. The study researchers told Science Daily, “Our study supports a more aggressive CVD risk assessment and management for persons with erectile dysfunction, including young men who may otherwise be categorized as low-risk due to their young ages.” Check out the sexual health conditions affecting millennial men.

These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (164) | Google ScholarSee all References Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown vardenafil to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to a wide range of other etiologies as well.71x71Hellstrom, WJ, Gittelman, M, Karlin, G..., and Vardenafil Study Group. Sustained efficacy and tolerability of vardenafil, a highly potent selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in men with erectile dysfunction: results of a randomized, double-blind, 26-week placebo-controlled pivotal trial. Urology. 2003; 61: 8–14
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. 
A variety of personal habits and lifestyle choices have been linked to ED. In some ways, this is a good thing, since habits can be broken and choices reconsidered. What's more, many of the lifestyle factors that contribute to sexual problems are ones that affect overall health and well-being, both physical and mental. Addressing these factors, therefore, can have benefits beyond improving erectile dysfunction.
Characteristics that imply a higher risk is severe ED (SHIM 1–7) and ED duration >3 years.15,30 Vascular and circulating biomarkers may help to characterize further the patient with ED.23 Of the wide array of biomarkers that have been proposed for the assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults,34,35 some have been studied specifically in the context of ED.23Table 4 offers a critical evaluation of these biomarkers. Such tests should be considered as potentially helpful and thus recommended where available, but not mandatory.30 Despite its potent predictive ability recently shown,36 exposure to radiation with coronary artery calcium scoring should be carefully weighed. Although not specific for ED, it might be reasonable to evaluate biomarkers that have been proposed for the intermediate-risk patient such as uric acid, glycated haemoglobin, microalbuminuria, and lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2.30
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.

Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include diabetes mellitus, obesity, physical inactivity, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use, and hypertension. Often, the relative risk of each of these factors in the development of ED is difficult to assess because many patients with ED and cardiovascular disease have more than 1 risk factor. Another important consideration is the effect of cardiac disease itself on erectile function. A history of a prior myocardial infarction was not found to be a significant independent risk factor for ED in a study comparing sexual function in 50 patients who had a prior myocardial infarction with a control group of 50 patients.14x14Dhabuwala, CB, Kumar, A, and Pierce, JM. Myocardial infarction and its influence on male sexual function. Arch Sex Behav. 1986; 15: 499–504

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitrates have only modest antianginal effects and offer no prognostic benefit for mild recurrent angina or unstable angina. Therefore, such anginal symptoms occurring after sildenafil use should be treated with other nonnitrate antianginal agents such as β-blockers.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References The risk of myocardial infarction with sexual activity has been estimated to be less than 3% in high-risk patients with prior cardiovascular disease if they can exercise to more than 7 METs without symptoms.89x89Moss, AJ and Benhorin, J. Prognosis and management after a first myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 1990; 322: 743–753

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.
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].
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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (207) | Google ScholarSee all References Adverse-effect profiles of headaches, flushing, rhinitis, and dyspepsia, without visual changes, mimic those of vardenafil.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
Erectile dysfunction is very common as men age. Erectile dysfunction is frequently a sign of atherosclerosis, a clogging or narrowing of the blood vessels that causes heart attacks. Erectile dysfunction usually comes 3 to 5 years before a heart attack, so after ED is diagnosed, there is time to treat atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack. Treating atherosclerosis involves diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary. Talk with your doctor about a broken sex life, and you might be able to prevent a broken heart.
Sexual intercourse is an infrequent cause of myocardial infarction. In a study of 1774 patients after myocardial infarction, only 1.5% of these events occurred within 2 hours of sexual intercourse, and sexual activity was considered a direct contributing factor in 0.9%.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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (259) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil should be used with caution in patients with liver dysfunction or renal impairment, as well as in patients taking any medications that inhibit the P-450 pathway such as cimetidine or erythromycin.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
Obesity is a strong predictor of ED as it is associated with other risk factors, such as diabetes, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.4 Obesity increases the risk of ED by 30–90 % and acts as an independent risk factor for CVD. Obese men with ED have greater impairment in endothelial function than non-obese men with ED.5 Moreover, high BMI causes low testosterone levels, which in turn leads to ED, as observed in a prospective trial involving 7,446 participants.50
Before a man concludes that oral drugs don’t work for him, he should have his testosterone levels checked to rule out hormone deficiency as the cause of (or as a contributor to) his sexual dysfunction. Other symptoms of low testosterone include a low sex drive and infertility. Checking testosterone levels requires a blood test. If a man’s levels of testosterone are decreased or at the lower end of normal, his doctor may prescribe supplemental testosterone therapy, either as testosterone injections or testosterone gel, which is applied daily to the skin. In some cases, testosterone therapy alone can resolve sexual dysfunction, or it can be combined with the use of oral erectile dysfunction drugs.
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