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.

Another study showed a forty percent increase of blood flow to the heart within one year of starting a dietary program designed similar to the one described in my book, The End of Heart Disease. Of pertinent note is that, in the same study, the patients following a high-protein Atkins’ diet decreased blood flow to the heart by forty percent in one year.8 These dangerous high-protein diets are a certain path to erectile impotence and a premature cardiac death.
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

The third Princeton Consensus (Expert Panel) Conference recommends assessing cardiovascular risk in all patients with ED and CVD. This refers to estimating the risk of mortality and morbidity associated with sexual activity. The current recommendations classify patients into low-, intermediate- and high-risk, based on their New York Heart Association class.57 The consensus also recommended that all patients with ED and CVD should undergo lifestyle changes, such as exercise, smoking cessation, healthy diet and weight reduction. These measures are likely to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve erectile function.58
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.

"The answer to the question, 'Can patients with heart disease safely have sex?' is almost always 'Yes,' unless they have such bad heart failure or severe artery disease that even a moderate amount of exertion will cause terrible chest pain," says Richard Stein, MD, who is director of preventive cardiology at New York City's Beth Israel Hospital. "And if that is the case, sex is probably the last thing on their minds anyway."
To date, there are no studies directly comparing the effectiveness of these three agents among diabetic men with ED, so it is impossible to state that one agent is superior to another in terms of effectiveness in diabetic patients. However, there are an number of studies that compare the individual agents to placebo in diabetic men with ED. For example, Boulton et al.41 completed a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of sildenafil in 219 men with ED and type 2 diabetes. They found that sildenafil resulted in a significant improvement in the ability to both achieve and maintain an erection adequate for sexual intercourse in men with type 2 diabetes. In a similar study, Rendell et al.42 randomized 268 diabetic men with ED to receive either sildenafil in a dose-escalation manner or placebo. At the conclusion of the 12-week study, 56% of the patients in the sildenafil arm reported improved erections, compared to 10% in the placebo arm (P < 0.001). Additionally, 61% of patients in the diabetic arm reported at least one successful attempt at sexual intercourse in the final month of the study, compared to 22% in the control arm (P < 0.001). Similar randomized studies have documented the effectiveness of both tadalafil43 and vardenafil44 in the treatment of diabetes-related ED.
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.
In particular, patients are classified into three categories (low, intermediate, high) depending on their CV risk profile. Individuals with controlled hypertension belong to the low-risk group where sexual dysfunction can be safely managed with the approved medical therapies regardless of the number or class (with the exception of b-blockers and diuretics) of agents of the patient’s antihypertensive regime. Moreover, patients of this group can safely initiate or reinstitute sexual activity without any need for additional cardiovascular evaluation.

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
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Unlike sildenafil, vardenafil has been associated with a slight prolongation of the QT interval and thus should not be used by patients with a congenital QT prolongation or by any patient currently taking antiarrhythmic medications.67x67Vardenafil (levitra) for erectile dysfunction. Med Lett Drugs Ther. 2003; 45: 77–78

Taking one of these tablets will not automatically produce an erection. Sexual stimulation is needed first to cause the release of nitric oxide from your penile nerves. These medications amplify that signal, allowing some men to function normally. Oral erectile dysfunction medications are not aphrodisiacs, will not cause excitement and are not needed in men who get normal erections.


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Since then, several other oral PDE-5 inhibitors have been developed, including vardenafil and tadalafil, which generated considerable interest in both the scientific and lay communities. There was also much concern about their safety, especially in men with cardiovascular disease. Compared with the 2 newer PDE-5 inhibitors vardenafil and tadalafil, sildenafil has been available for a much longer time; therefore, the vast majority of published cardiovascular safety studies have been performed on this medication. Recommended starting and maximum doses of oral PDE-5 inhibitors are shown in Table 1.
Evaluation of functional capacity is the mainstay for the management of patients with ED.30 However, it should be kept in mind that in men with heart failure sexual activity may affect the heart differently from physical activity of similar METS due to differences in psychological anticipation and sympathetic activation.30,49 Cardiac echocardiography may offer valuable information for left ventricular performance and valvular function. For risk categories of heart failure patients and their management, please refer to Table 3 and Figure 5.

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].
Core tip: The prevalence of erectile dysfunction is approximately 2-fold higher in hypertensive patients compared to normotensive individuals. However, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients. Lifestyle modification should be the mainstay of treating erectile dysfunction in patients with untreated hypertension. Switching antihypertensive therapy should be considered in treated hypertensive patients, unless administered drugs are absolutely indicated for the individual patient. Otherwise, phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors should be used, since they are both effective and safe in hypertensive patients. Finally, erectile dysfunction offers the opportunity to recognize asymptomatic cardiovascular disease with obvious benefits for cardiovascular event prevention.

DHEA. Testosterone is essential for a healthy libido and normal sexual function, and erectile dysfunction sufferers known to have low testosterone improve when placed on prescription testosterone replacement therapy. Similarly, studies have shown that taking over-the-counter supplements containing DHEA, a hormone that the body converts to testosterone and estrogen, can help alleviate some cases of ED. But DHEA can cause problems, including suppression of pituitary function, acne, hair loss and its long-term safety is unknown, says McCullough. For this reason, many experts discourage use of the supplements.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Aside from the economic costs, ED can have severe psychological effects, resulting in poor self-image, decreased self-esteem, depression, and mental stress, and negative effects on personal relationships.2x2NIH Consensus Development Panel on Impotence. NIH Consensus Conference: impotence. JAMA. 1993; 270: 83–90
Recent revised labeling for sildenafil states that there is a lack of controlled data for its use in patients with resting hypotension (<90/50 mm Hg) or hypertension (>170/110 mm Hg); a history of myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the past 6 months; coronary artery disease or cardiac failure causing unstable angina; or retinitis pigmentosa and possible genetic disorders of retinal PDEs.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
An equally valuable observation though, is the fact that sexual dysfunction could indeed indicate asymptomatic CV disease. A solid amount of evidence accumulated over the last years has pointed out towards that trend moving, hesitatingly though, sexual dysfunction in the surface of scientific interest. As such, commonly under-reported, under-recognized and under-treated, sexual dysfunction could indeed play its role in cardiovascular risk assessment and stratification.

After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes, heart failure and stroke, those taking PDE5 inhibitors were found to be markedly less likely to die than those taking alprostadil or no erectile dysfunction drugs. Filling more prescriptions for PDE5 inhibitors appeared to be associated with a greater benefit, although Andersson said that trend should be interpreted with caution because the study was not large enough for a definitive dose-response analysis.

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.

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

The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.


High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). Some of the medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause ED as well. According to the authors of one study, about 30 percent of men with high blood pressure also have had ED. Finding a medication that treats high blood pressure without causing ED is a goal of many men.

Diabetes doubles or even triples the chance that you’ll have erectile dysfunction (ED) and that you could develop it a decade earlier than other men. In fact, the two conditions are so closely linked that some experts believe that for men younger than 45, impotence, or ED, could be an early warning sign of diabetes. The good news is that diabetes treatment, especially if you identify type 2 diabetes early, can also ease ED.
Yet another common erectile dysfunction treatment that can be used in combination with oral drugs is a vacuum pump. This device consists of a plastic cylinder, a pump, a set of constriction bands, and a water-soluble lubricant. The lubricant is applied to the base of the penis to help form an airtight seal. The cylinder is placed over the flaccid penis and held tight against the pelvis. The pump is used to create a vacuum within the cylinder, drawing blood into the penis. Once the penis is engorged with blood, a constriction band is rolled off the cylinder to near the base of the penis. The constriction band is helpful for men with venous leakage, in which blood flows out of the penis as fast as it flows in. However, it should be left on for no more than 30 minutes at a time.
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