Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is when a man has difficulty getting or maintaining a strong enough erection for sexual intercourse or other sexual activity. It can be caused by stress, anxiety or excessive alcohol consumption. But it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), diabetes or high blood pressure. Some medications can cause erectile dysfunction, for example beta-blockers and diuretics (commonly used to treat a variety of heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure and heart failure).
In years past, before nitric oxide and its role in the erectile response was appreciated, testosterone was used to treat sexual dysfunction in men. It proved a partial success as a standalone therapy, resulting in improved erectile potency in 40–60% of men with low-to-normal testosterone levels. The likelihood of success increased, however, if starting testosterone levels were low (usually defined as below 300 ng/dL), in which case improved erections were experienced by as many as 65% of men, compared with 16.7% receiving placebo; topical testosterone preparations were also noted to be superior to oral replacement or injections.21 These findings were confirmed by another study that showed testosterone produced modest improvements in erectile function and libido in men with low-to-normal testosterone levels.22
If the cause is believed to be organic but not hormonal, or if the patient defers psychological intervention, he can be offered the VCD or oral drug therapy. EDDM patients on organic nitrates or who have experienced or are concerned about potential adverse reaction to PDE-5 inhibitors are suitable candidates for the VCD. The VCD induces functional rigidity in 75% of patients with diabetes with autonomic neuropathy. Some patients or their partners may reject or discontinue the use of the VCD because it induces an unnatural erection, causes bruising and numbness of the penis, and or inhibits antegrade ejaculation.8
Although medication can help extend the lives of men with chronic heart failure, several factors associated with this disease can interfere with a person's ability to engage in and enjoy sexual activities. Fatigue, depression, medication side effects and the fear of damaging the heart can cause people with chronic heart failure to lose interest in sex or wonder whether this activity is safe for them.

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Erections result from relaxation of the corpora cavernosa, which is mediated either by increasing intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) or cyclic adenosine monophosphate or by inhibition of their degradation. Increased parasympathetic tone results in a decrease in norepinephrine release and an increase in the release of acetylcholine; subsequently, NO synthase activity increases, which releases NO from both endothelial cells and nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurons.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
• Blood Vessels: Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially the smallest blood vessels such as those in the penis. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and other circulatory problems. Proper blood flow is absolutely crucial to achieving erection. “Erection is a hydraulic phenomenon that occurs involuntarily,” says Arturo Rolla, MD, of Harvard University School of Medicine. “Nobody can will an erection!” Anything that limits or impairs blood flow can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection, no matter how strong one’s sexual desire.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Although some case studies have reported a relationship between calcium channel blockers and ED, most studies suggest that this effect is minimal and that any relationship is likely secondary to a decrease in blood pressure with consequent reflex sympathetic activation.42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082

Gene therapy has the potential to become a future management option for patients with CAD and ED. Animal studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of gene therapy. A rat model was studied by Bivalacqua et al. to evaluate the effect of the combination of eNOS gene therapy and sildenafil. This research suggested that erectile response was greater in male rats with diabetes treated with combination eNOS gene therapy and sildenafil, compared with male rats with diabetes treated with eNOS gene therapy or sildenafil alone.76–78

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (124) | Google ScholarSee all References This was a doubleblind, single-dose crossover study involving 41 men with stable coronary artery disease characterized by reproducible stable exertional angina. After taking either 10 mg of vardenafil or placebo, these men underwent treadmill exercise tolerance testing to 5 to 10 METs. Compared with placebo, vardenafil use did not result in a change in exercise treadmill time or time to first awareness of angina but significantly increased the time to ischemic threshold. At peak exercise levels, vardenafil did not cause a change in either heart rate or blood pressure level. This study concluded that 10 mg of vardenafil did not impair the ability of men with stable coronary artery disease to exercise at levels consistent with the exertion associated with sexual intercourse.

Chlamydia and erectile dysfunction: What's the link? Some people who have chlamydia also experience erectile dysfunction (ED), which involves problems getting or maintaining an erection. Chlamydia can infect the prostate gland, leading to prostatitis, pain, and ED. In this article, learn more about the link between this common infection and ED, and treatments for both. Read now
ED is a common disease affecting men with IHD. Endothelial dysfunction is the link between ED and IHD and both diseases share the same aetiology, risk factors and pathogenesis. Aggressive control of these risk factors – along with lifestyle modification – is recommended to improve symptoms of ED and reduce cardiovascular risk. PDE5 inhibitors remain the first-choice treatment for ED in IHD patients and they have been shown to be safe and effective. However, PDE5 inhibitors can potentiate the hypotensive effect of nitrates so concomitant administration of sildenafil and nitrates is contraindicated. Gene and stem cell therapy are being investigated as a future therapies for ED.

“The presence of erectile dysfunction portends a higher risk of future cardiovascular events, particularly in intermediate-risk men, and may serve as an opportunity for intensification of cardiovascular risk prevention strategies,” wrote Boston University heart specialists Naomi Hamburg, MD and Matt Kluge, MD, in an accompanying editorial. “The findings add to the growing evidence supporting additional trials to determine the clinical impact of erectile dysfunction screening and the appropriate cardiovascular directed evaluation and treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.”

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Diabetes was found to play a major role in vasculogenic impotence in a study of 265 patients with ED who underwent color duplex ultrasonography of the cavernosal arteries after intracavernosal injection of prostaglandin E1.13x13Chung, 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


“If a diabetic patient has erectile dysfunction, it’s not enough to provide Viagra [sildenafil] or Cialis [tadalafil] and then send him on his merry way,” J. Francois Eid, MD, a New York City urologist, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It’s important to let individuals know the drug has not cured the erectile dysfunction. If patients don’t take care of the diabetes, the erectile dysfunction progresses.”

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

 Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED. 
Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.

Yohimbine: The main component of an African tree bark, yohimbine is probably one of the most problematic of all natural remedies for ED. Some research suggests that yohimbine can improve a type of sexual dysfunction that is linked with a drug used to treat depression. However, studies have linked yohimbine to a number of side effects, which can include anxiety, increased blood pressure, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. Like all natural remedies, yohimbine should only be used after advice and under supervision from a doctor.

80. Montorsi F, Briganti A, Salonia A, Rigatti P, Margonato A, Macchi A, Galli S, Ravagnani PM, Montorsi P. Erectile dysfunction prevalence, time of onset and association with risk factors in 300 consecutive patients with acute chest pain and angiographically documented coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 2003;44:360–364; discussion 364-365. [PubMed]
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].
In contrast to Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng is divided into three types, depending on how it is processed. Red Ginseng is harvested at the sixth year of cultivation and is steamed and dried. In addition to the effects mentioned regarding the effects of ginsenoside, red ginseng has been repoted to improve erectile function in a rat model of metabolic syndrome and it was also found to inhibit fibrosis of the corpus cavernosum of the penis (39). As with most herbal medicines, the concentration of ginsenoside are distributed unevenly throughout the ginseng plant and the concentrations in individual supplements can vary. Common side effects include headaches, insomnia, gastric upset, rash and constipation.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530
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. 
Cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction (ED) are closely interrelated disease processes. Erectile dysfunction reportedly affects 10 million to 20 million men in the United States and more than 100 million men worldwide. Each year, about 500,000 persons in the United States survive a myocardial infarction, and an estimated 11 million have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients. We explore the relationship between ED and the presence of cardiovascular disease in the general population. We also review the prevalence and pathophysiological associations of ED and cardiovascular disease. The risks of sexual activity for patients with cardiovascular disease are discussed, as are prevention and treatment strategies for ED in this patient population.
Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors. The cornerstone of first-line therapy is the PDE-5 inhibitor. No other class of oral agents approaches the efficacy of PDE-5 inhibitors. Yohimbine, trazodone, phentolamine, L-arginine, and OTC herbal remedies have been used with very limited success. The superiority of yohimbine over placebo in the treatment of organic ED is a matter of dispute.9 A recent trazodone study failed to detect any difference between trazodone and placebo on sexual function.10 Oral phentolamine, although available in Mexico, has not been approved by the US FDA for the treatment of ED. Apomorphine, a central dopaminergic receptor drug, has recently been voluntarily withdrawn from FDA consideration for the treatment of ED. The efficacy of ginkgo biloba and Korean red ginseng has yet to be demonstrated by randomized, placebo-controlled trials.
Dey J. “Evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes mellitus.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 77. 2002. 276-282. Shabsigh R. “Erectile Dysfunction in Men with Diabetes Mellitus.” Men’s Sexual Health Consult Collection. 2006 Nov. Moore C, Wang R. “Pathophysiology and treatment of diabetic erectile dysfunction.” Asian J Andrology. 2006 Nov. 8: 67-684. Penson D, Latini D, Lubeck D, Wallace K, Henning J, Lue T. “Do impotent men with diabetes have more severe erectile dysfunction and worse quality of life than general population of impotent patients?” Diabetes Care 26. 2003. 1093-1099. Sun P, Cameron A, Seftel A, Shabsigh R, Niederberger C, Guay A. “Erectile dysfunction – an observable marker of diabetes mellitus? A large national epidemiological study.” Journal of Urology 176. 2006. 1081-1085.
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.

With great interest we have read the recently published review by Vlachopoulos et al, a very detailed and extensive overview of erectile dysfunction in the cardiovascular patients. Guidelines for the management of erectile dysfunction with heart failure were noted, as well as advice about dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED) in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, many others have written similar reviews and guideline concerning the care for ED as well as (female) sexual dysfunction in CAD in the past years (1-4), cardiologists should be familiar with this matter by now. The problem is the actual translation of this knowledge into actions in cardiologists' daily clinical practice. Our research group performed a survey among Dutch cardiologists, aiming to evaluate their inquiry about erectile function in day-to-day practice, to detect their attitude towards this discussion and their perceived barriers for addressing sexual activity. Results from this survey indicated that cardiologists (n=414) did not routinely discuss erectile dysfunction: 48.7% indicated to discuss sexual function 'sometimes' and only 16.9% said to discuss the subject regularly. Of respondents, 41.5% marked that care for patients' sexual quality of life is not their responsibility. Nevertheless, 42% indicated that they would benefit from training to obtain knowledge about treatment of erectile and sexual dysfunction in cardiologic patients. Barriers not to inquire about sexual activity included 'the patient does not ask about it' (53.7%), 'I do not have an angle or motive to start about it'(45.9%), as well as time constraints (42.9%) and lack of training in dealing with sexual dysfunction (35.2%). The more experienced the cardiologist was the less he/she stated the need for training or for a referral directory(5). Since all cardiologists should, meanwhile, know that ED is part of their responsibility, as it is a sentinel marker of CVD(6). It is now case to pay attention to the implementation of the care for erectile and other sexual dysfunction in the cardiology practice. Our study suggests that physicians' experience in the field plays an important role in discussing sexual activity and that sexual healthcare can be improved with more education about the subject. Furthermore a directory of the available healthcare professionals for the referral of patients with sexual dysfunction was indicated as mandatory. We suggest that attention of cardiologists should not only be focused on writing about ED and CVD, attention should be diverted to the actual implementation of care for patients with ED as well, in order to improve patient-centered healthcare in cardiology.


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.
Cavallini, G., Modenini, F., Vitali, G., & Koverech, A. (2005, November). Acetyl-L-carnitine plus propionyl-L-carnitine improve efficacy of sildenafil in treatment of erectile dysfunction after bilateral nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy. Urology, 66(5), 1080-5. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429505006515

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (19) | Google ScholarSee all References However, there has been disagreement regarding the effects of diuretics on erectile function; many studies found that only rarely have these medications been implicated convincingly as the cause of a patient's ED.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31

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.


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In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (395) | Google ScholarSee all References Phosphodiesterase type 5 is primarily responsible for the breakdown of cGMP in cavernosal tissues. The inhibition of PDE-5 by sildenafil therefore causes continued activation of the NO-cGMP pathway in the cavernosal tissue, thereby improving erectile function.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
A similar situation develops in the fragile penile circulation. Any disturbance in nitric oxide production lowers the capacity to dilate penile arteries, impairing penile engorgement for erection. Release of nitric oxide is readily sabotaged by many conditions, including elevated levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, smoking, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and excessive consumption of dietary saturated fat.9 If an artery’s inner wall can’t produce nitric oxide, an abnormal constriction of the arteries to the penis follows, effectively choking off blood flow.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Sleep studies in 175 patients with hypertension and erectile problems showed significantly lower penile rigidity measured by strain gauge plethysmography compared with 110 normotensive male controls with similar subjective erectile problems.33x33Hirshkowitz, M, Karacan, I, Gurakar, A, and Williams, RL. Hypertension, erectile dysfunction, and occult sleep apnea. Sleep. 1989; 12: 223–232
The number of men reporting improvement was at 88% during the study. The number of men involved in the study who reported impotence dropped from 75.3 % to 11.8%. The results of this study raise hope for men who have quit taking other blood pressure medications because they interfered with sexual function. Sexual dysfunction was defined for the study as decreased libido, impotence and poor sexual satisfaction.

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Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References One MET is equal to a resting state, or 3.5 mL/kg per minute. The relative MET values of sexual activity compared with other forms of activity are shown in Table 3. In general, sexual activity is similar to mild or moderate activity for most patients either with or without coronary artery disease.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

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Almost every class of antihyper-tensive medication has been implicated in causing ED; however, most of these studies, published as case reports or patient surveys, have been relatively subjective and uncontrolled.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

Hypertension can affect endothelial function in many ways. It can reduce endothelium-dependent vasodilatation by increasing the vasoconstrictor tone as a result of increased peripheral sympathetic activity.41–43 Another mechanism is hypertension-induced increase in cyclooxygenase activity that leads to an increase in reactive oxygen species; these in turn damage endothelial cells and disrupt their function.44–46 In some cases, endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) gene variations may relate to hypertension-associated endothelial dysfunction.6

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
A substantial body of literature documents the prevalence of ED in men with diabetes. Unfortunately, the majority of these studies do not distinguish between type 1 and type 2 disease, and, therefore, it is difficult to determine if prevalence rates between the two forms of diabetes differ significantly. Acknowledging this limitation in the literature, prevalence estimates of ED in cross-sectional studies of diabetic populations range from 20 to 71% (Table 1). Most of these studies did not control for severity of disease, duration of disease, or control of hyperglycemia.
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