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?
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of relevant studies in this field confirmed that erectile dysfunction is associated with increased risk of CV events and all-cause mortality. The pooled relative risks were 1.44 (95%CI: 1.27-1.63) for total CV events, 1.19 (95%CI: 0.97-1.46) for CV mortality, 1.62 (95%CI: 1.34-1.96) for myocardial infarction, 1.39 (95%CI: 1.23-1.57) for cerebrovascular events, and 1.25 (95%CI: 1.12-1.39) for all-cause mortality, for men with vs without erectile dysfunction. Of note, the relative risk was higher in intermediate-compared with high- or low-CV-risk populations and with younger age, with obvious clinical implications. Interestingly, the relative risks were higher when erectile dysfunction was diagnosed with the use of a questionnaire compared with a single question (RR = 1.61; 95%CI: 1.38-1.86 vs RR = 1.27; 95%CI: 1.18-1.37, respectively; P = 0.006).
Yohimbine is an indole alkaloid derived from the bark of the African yohimbe tree (33). Yohimbine has been noted to treat fatigue, depression, diabetes, and sexual dysfunction. A meta-analysis of seven placebo-controlled trials (34) deemed yohimbine superior to placebo for the treatment of ED with rare adverse events. The proposed mechanism of action (35) is via the inhibition of central alpha-2-adrenergic receptors, decreasing central inhibition of arousal, and increasing penile nerve stimulation resulting in increased NO. Common side effects include headache, sweating, agitation, hypertension and insomnia. Contraindications include patients on tricyclic antidepressants, anti-hypertensives and central nervous system stimulants.
Following the breakthrough in ED treatment using PDE5-inhibitors, Western medicine has now moved on to a new frontier of regenerative medicine, with stem cell and gene therapy leading the way (25). There is a practical need for novel therapy as a significant portion of diabetic or post-prostatectomy ED patients do not respond to oral pharmacotherapy. To date, stem cells derived from different sites including adipose tissue-derived stem cells, bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells and muscle-derived stem cells have been investigated using animal models for ED, to study their effects on neural, vascular, endothelial or smooth muscle regeneration (25,26).
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
“I’m hoping this study will drive that (tie) a little bit harder and faster so that physicians will routinely be including ED when they’re screening patients for cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Doctors should ask the question and consider whether hardening of the arteries is occurring, ask about family history and signs or symptoms like chest pain with exertion, and spend the requisite amount of time to find out what’s going on.”
Several drugs can produce erectile difficulties, but blood pressure drugs are near the top. ED is an occasional side effect of BP drugs like thiazide diuretics, loop diuretics, and beta-blockers, all of which can decrease blood flow to the penis and make it difficult to get an erection. However, other BP drugs, such as alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and angioten-sin-receptor blockers, rarely cause ED.
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.
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.
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.
Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.