It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.
But closer questioning often revealed a very different story—men would admit that struggles to achieve an erection usually preceded a heart attack or other cardiac event by one, two, or three years. Back then, the pattern of erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease was so widespread, that most in the medical profession attributed it to simple “aging,” as common as wrinkles and constipation.
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
A study conducted by Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne Australia published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that men over 20 years of age with erectile dysfunction (ED) have twice the risk of cardiovascular incidents than those of men with normal sexual health. It was also found out that 2% of men aged 55 and older experienced major stroke and cardiac arrest after the initial episode of ED, within a year; 11% experienced something within five years. Experts from Prince Henry’s Institute warned men with these failures to seek advice on erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure. This may indicate a missing vital warning sign of impending heart disease. Why is this happening? Do men with ED predispose themselves to have cardiovascular diseases and strokes or just the other way around?
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
There are so many potential reasons a man might develop erectile dysfunction (ED), it's nearly impossible to generalize the best ways to treat it. What works for one man may not work for another simply because they are having problems for different reasons. That said, it may encouraging to hear that there are a variety of options that may be considered, from psychological counseling to lifestyle changes, medications to treatments and devices.
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:
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!
Powerful clinical and scientific experience suggests a close link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Studies like the Health Professionals Follow-up Study have revealed the risk factors for erectile dysfunction to be very similar to those for heart disease. Hypertension, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and physical inactivity all strongly predict sexual dysfunction in men, as they do heart disease.1
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.
The art of acupuncture has become the new treatment for everything from back pain, depression, and even ED. Impotence could be more of a state of mind, and acupuncture may help. Through this alternative therapy, fine needles are placed in various parts of the body to relieve pain or stress. Although there are many mixed studies for acupuncture and ED, many tend to confirm positive results. A 1999 study found acupuncture improved the quality of erection and even restored sexual activity in 39 percent of participants.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The Princeton Consensus Panel provided guidelines (Table 4) for physicians regarding patients who are being evaluated for their level of risk in resuming sexual activity.51x51DeBusk, R, Drory, Y, Goldstein, I et al. Management of sexual dysfunction in patients with cardiovascular disease: recommendations of the Princeton Consensus Panel. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 62F–68F
Poor sleep patterns can be a contributing factor for erectile dysfunction, Mucher says. One review published in the journal Brain Research emphasized the intricate relationship between the level of sex hormones like testosterone, sexual function, and sleep, noting that testosterone levels increase with improved sleep, and lower levels are associated with sexual dysfunction. Hormone secretion is controlled by the body’s internal clock, and sleep patterns likely help the body determine when to release certain hormones.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References, 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
Experts feel that treating erectile dysfunction on your own, without consulting a doctor, is unsafe. "If you have ED, the first thing you need is a diagnosis," says impotence expert Steven Lamm, MD, a New York City internist and the author of The Hardness Factor (Harper Collins) and other books on male sexual health. He says men with severe erectile dysfunction probably need one of the prescription ED drugs, which include Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) as well as Viagra. But, he says, mild ED -- including the feeling that "you're not as hard as you could be" -- often responds to natural remedies.
Since time immemorial, TCM has been adopted by many cultures and is widely practiced in Asian countries despite paucity of level 1 clinical evidence and limited published safety records. TCM is more congruent with Asian values, beliefs and philosophical orientation to health, simple administration, readily available and ease of access or procurement, and general belief that TCM is safer. While Asian males are clearly different from their Western counterparts with respect to biology, culture and beliefs, the practice of TCM appears to be adopted by many Western nations lately. Many men seek TCM to avoid embarrassing visits to physicians and potential side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, or after becoming frustrated with the outcome of modern medicine. Patients are choosing to take more responsibility for their health by exploring a variety of non-pharmaceutical drugs and wellness practices. Furthermore, TCM such as herbal medicine does not address a specific organ system only and is meant to restore and realign the vital energy within the body, which is responsible for ageing, clinical diseases and the deterioration of bodily function; while in Western medicine, each pill is intended for a specific organ/system and that a patient may need a collection of pills to treat multiple comorbidities, rendering modern medicine less attractive to TCM.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In study patients taking these medications compared with controls, significant decreases in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were found, as well as significant increases in length of maximal tumescence per nocturnal penile tumescence testing at 2 weeks. Hypoglycemia secondary to the use of insulin or hypoglycemic agents may result in ED or orgasmic dysfunction.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
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.
A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the effects of untreated erectile dysfunction, or conversely, the effect of having an active sex life without taking erectile dysfunction drugs. The researchers also were unable to account for socioeconomic status; as a next step, they are planning a larger study that will include more health records and complete information on marital status, educational level and disposable income. They are also pursuing a separate analysis of outcomes from erectile dysfunction drugs in men with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
When the diagnosis of vasculogenic sexual dysfunction has been carefully reached, physicians will have to come up with an effective treatment. Appropriate lifestyle measures and adoption of a healthier attitude could represent an initial, efficient and cost-effective treatment option. This is due to the fact that traditional CV risk factors such as hypertension, physical inactivity-obesity, smoking and dyslipidemia have been consistently linked with endothelial and consequently sexual dysfunction.In this context, it has been demonstrated that moderate physical activity can reduce up to 30% the risk of erectile dysfunction contrary to sedentary life, which exerts a deleterious effect. Interestingly, the beneficial effect of physical exercise on sexual dysfunction seems to be independent of its favorable impact on the general cardiovascular profile. In terms of caloric reduction, Mediterranean diet exerts a positive effect on sexual function parameters of patients with metabolic syndrome. Moreover, combined physical exercise and caloric restriction can result in weight reduction which in succession can reduce up to 30% the risk of obesity-associated erectile dysfunctio.
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.