Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.
ED almost always has an organic or mixed etiology in diabetic men. This often results in diabetic men reporting more severe ED when they present for treatment of this condition. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that diabetic men's responses to standard therapy for ED differ from those of the general population of men with ED.38 We, therefore, will now briefly review the literature regarding effectiveness of various ED therapies specifically in diabetic men.
Basaria S,  Coviello AD,  Travison TG,  Storer TW,  Farwell WR,  Jette AM,  Eder R,  Tennstedt S,  Ulloor J,  Zhang A,  Choong K,  Lakshman KM,  Mazer NA,  Miciek R,  Krasnoff J,  Elmi A,  Knapp PE,  Brooks B,  Appleman E,  Aggarwal S,  Bhasin G,  Hede-Brierley L,  Bhatia A,  Collins L,  LeBrasseur N,  Fiore LD,  Bhasin S. Adverse events associated with testosterone administration, N Engl J Med , 2010, vol. 36 (pg. 109-122)https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1000485
Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), elevations in blood lipids or cholesterol are considered blood vessel problems and have all been associated with Erectile Dysfunction. The blood vessel abnormalities caused by these diseases affect vessels throughout the body and often produce other symptoms of vascular diseases. Diabetics and patients with hypertension frequently have heart disease. These conditions typically interfere with the ability of the penile vessels to work properly and ultimately cause ED.

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.
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.

Whereas lifestyle modification is a reasonable initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with sexual dysfunction, finding the appropriate antihypertensive treatment is usually the next “complicated” move to care for. Several observational and clinical studieshave consistently associated antihypertensive medication with sexual dysfunction[20]. Whether one class of antihypertensive agents is associated exclusively or more with erectile dysfunction compared to another, however, is a difficult puzzle to solve as there are many other factors (comorbid conditions, concomitant medications, personal characteristics) to be taken into account at the same time. In addition, erectile dysfunction has never been studied as the primary end-point before and as a result a definite causative relationship between antihypertensive medication and sexual dysfunction has never been proven.
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
Erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. However, the condition is even more common among men who have diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. In addition, some of the other conditions that often occur with diabetes, such as coronary artery disease, can also contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.
In diabetic patients who fail medical management of ED, penile implantation surgery remains a viable therapeutic option. In a recent review of 372 men who underwent implantation of a three-piece inflatable penile implant, 86% reported that the device was still functional 5 years after implantation, and 79% reported that they used the device at least twice monthly.59
A follow-up study from the ExCEED database compared men with ED and prostate cancer to men with ED without prostate cancer and found that the prostate cancer survivors had worse erectile function but reported better quality of life than those without prostate cancer.37 The authors hypothesized that the prostate cancer survivors were able to “rationalize” away their sexual dysfunction with the knowledge that they may have been “cured” of their prostate cancer. Clearly, diabetic men could not use the same rationale.
Crucial to the understanding of the relationship between ED and CVD and the management of ED patients within the context of the (potential) CVD were the consecutive Princeton Consensus Recommendations (I: 2000, II: 2005, and III: 2012). The reader is strongly encouraged to refer to the most recent, third (2012) Princeton Consensus.30 Key notions in the assessment and management of the patient with organic ED are that (i) he should be considered at increased CVD risk until recommended checks suggest otherwise, and (ii) ED identifies increased CVD risk in the presence or absence of CVD symptoms or history.
If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
Testosterone therapy in hypogonadism modulates metabolic components associated with CV risk. The majority of prospective clinical studies indicates that treatment achieving testosterone levels within physiological limits has beneficial or neutral effects on a lipid profile other than HDL-C, beneficial or neutral effects on inflammatory mediators, and generally beneficial effects on glycaemic state.25 The lean body mass is typically increased in hypogonadal subjects, and visceral adiposity is decreased in several studies and unchanged in the remainder. Such metabolic effects have raised interest on the potential impact on cardiovascular health. Regarding symptoms in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure) TTh has been either neutral or beneficial.25 Regarding CVD risk, available clinical trial data indicate that the use of testosterone in middle-aged to elderly men does not increase cardiovascular risk25 with the exception of one study in very frail (substantial limitation of mobility and a high rate of comorbidities) elderly subjects that used an off-label high, and rapid escalation, dosing regimen.46 Prospective data from large, well-designed, long-term trials of TTh are warranted.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References However, some researchers have questioned whether the strain of sexual activity can be compared accurately with standard types of physical activity and whether sexual activity is more closely related to episodes of anger or fear.85x85DeBusk, RF. Evaluating the cardiovascular tolerance for sex. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 51F–56F
Cigarette smoking is an established risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic vascular changes and thus would be expected to play a role in the development of vasculogenic ED. The MMAS 9-year follow-up study found that the risk of developing moderate or complete ED in smokers was nearly doubled (odds ratio, 1.97) compared with that in matched nonsmokers.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
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, sildenafil was effective in patients with diabetes mellitus.58x58Rendell, MS, Rajfer, J, Wicker, PA, Smith, MD, and Sildenafil Diabetes Study Group. Sildenafil for treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1999; 281: 421–426
Overall, sildenafil appears to be relatively safe and effective for treatment of ED in men with stable cardiovascular disease who are not taking NO-donor medications. In a study of 105 men with ED and known or likely coronary artery disease, patients underwent symptom-limited supine bicycle echocardiography 2 times after receiving either sildenafil or placebo.63x63Arruda-Olson, AM, Mahoney, DW, Nehra, A, Leckel, M, and Pellikka, PA. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil during exercise in men with known or probable coronary artery disease: a randomized crossover trial. JAMA. 2002; 287: 719–725
While Western medicine emphases the link between cardiovascular function and ED, TCM places importance on liver and kidney ailments as causative factor for development of ED. Western medicine involves a step-wise approach by targeting the relevant organ systems to treat various clinical symptoms; but TCM focuses on restoring the balance between various organs to achieve harmony and holistic approach to inner sense (4). The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western medicine and TCM (see Table 1).
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In the general population, the estimated relative risk of experiencing a myocardial infarction within 2 hours after sexual intercourse is approximately 2.5 times higher than the baseline infarction risk of that individual, which itself is extremely low8x8Muller, 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 (46) | Google ScholarSee all References Sedentary patients with a history of cardiac disease and patients with unstable angina or advanced congestive heart failure should undergo a full medical evaluation before resuming sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
Unfortunately, government agencies often are slow to respond to new scientific information and economic and political forces make it difficult for our population to receive clear information informing them that heart disease is nutritionally induced and totally avoidable with dietary excellence. Sadly, even the American Heart Association advocates a diet that has been shown to actually increase heart disease.
Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.
A number of drugs are known to cause ED in patients with DM (Table 1). For example, many EDDM patients are on antihypertensive medications. Replacement of thiazides or beta-blockers with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers may be sufficient to regain erectile ability.5 Furthermore, discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, if these drugs are not essential for patient well-being, may be therapeutic. Careful monitoring following drug discontinuation will help to determine if ED is due to the medication or other underlying disorders. The benefits of continued drug therapy with these drugs should always be weighed against the likelihood of causing ED and impacting on the patient's QOL.
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
Erectile dysfunction supplements and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and avanafil (Stendra), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well-studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse.  To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.

Vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is the main cause of sexual dysfunction in untreated hypertensive patients. However, due to the complex etiologic and pathophysiologic nature of sexual dysfunction, exclusion of concomitant diseases and drugs should be the initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with this clinical condition that is not receiving any antihypertensive medication. Consequently, a significant amount of neurological, psychiatric, urologic and endocrine disorders should be ruled out before vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is diagnosed.


Crucial to the understanding of the relationship between ED and CVD and the management of ED patients within the context of the (potential) CVD were the consecutive Princeton Consensus Recommendations (I: 2000, II: 2005, and III: 2012). The reader is strongly encouraged to refer to the most recent, third (2012) Princeton Consensus.30 Key notions in the assessment and management of the patient with organic ED are that (i) he should be considered at increased CVD risk until recommended checks suggest otherwise, and (ii) ED identifies increased CVD risk in the presence or absence of CVD symptoms or history.

Towards this direction, several sufficiently powered studies have demonstrated a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease, either asymptomatic or overt. At the same time, patients with erectile dysfunction are more prone to have established coronary artery stenosis of more than 50% and consequently evident CV disease[75]. This is in conformity with the “artery size hypothesis” according to which smaller arteries (e.g., penile arteries) are the first to undergo a vascular lesion prior to the larger ones (e.g., coronary arteries). Moreover, in such patients erectile dysfunction is connected to the number of occluded vessels and more interestingly occurs over three years before coronary artery disease becomes apparent[76-80].


This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
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