April 01, 2021

Does Diabetes Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) – the ability to get or maintain an erection firm enough to have sex – can be caused by a number of conditions, including diabetes. According to an American Diabetes Association (ADA) study, about 35-75% of men with diabetes will eventually experience ED, and men with diabetes develop diabetes 10-15 years earlier than men without diabetes. 

The likelihood of developing ED increases with age for men with diabetes. Here are some ED statistics based on age:

  • 50-60% above the age of 50
  • 95% above the age of 70

How Can Diabetes Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

There are many reasons why diabetes can lead to ED, including vascular, psychological, and neurological issues that can arise. Current medical knowledge has identified several likely causes of ED in patients with diabetes, including:

  • Damage to the small blood vessels in the penis. Diabetes means there’s more glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream, and this can damage small blood vessels. Damage to small blood vessels in the penis can make it more difficult to have and maintain an erection. 
  • Low testosterone levels. It’s estimated that 25% of men with diabetes have low testosterone. Testosterone plays a large role in men’s sexual function, and having a low level can lead to ED.
  • Depression. Many men with diabetes may become depressed or have anxiety related to having to manage such a difficult disease. Depression can lead to various problems with having an erection, including a loss of morning erections, which are natural in healthy men. Anxiety can cause men to lose an erection or have difficulty getting an erection. 
  • Side effects of medication. Diabetic men who are being treated with multiple medications can experience ED as a result of the side effects of their medications.

Can Erectile Dysfunction Caused by Diabetes Be Reversed?

ED caused by diabetes can be reversed, but it’s not guaranteed to go away completely. Managing your diabetes is the best way to stop the progression of ED, but sometimes symptoms don’t improve due to nerve damage. 

How Can a Diabetic Overcome Erectile Dysfunction?

Below, we’ll outline methods that diabetics can use to help overcome ED, including:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medication
  • Other treatment options

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of ED due to diabetes. Lifestyle changes you can make include:

  • Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake. Tobacco use, including smoking, narrows your blood vessels, which can lead to or worsen ED. Excess alcohol can also contribute to ED, so if you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation. 
  • Eating a healthy diet of low saturated fat and high fiber. Studies show that men making this diet change along with adding moderate physical activity were able to improve ED without prescription drugs.
  • Exercising. Exercising can help with underlying conditions that play a part in ED because it helps you lose weight and increase your blood flow.
  • Weight loss. Being overweight can worsen or cause ED, so make sure to eat healthily and remain physically active. 
  • Stress reduction. ED can cause stress and tension in a relationship. If the origins of your ED are physical, consider counseling to help you deal with the stress. You should also find time to relax and get enough sleep every night.

Prescription Medication

Treatment of ED will depend on the cause and your doctor can switch any prescription medications that may contribute to ED. There are medications that your doctor can prescribe to help treat ED from diabetes, with the four most commonly being:

  • Sildenafil (Viagra)
  • Vardenafil (Levitra)
  • Tadalafil (Cialis)
  • Avanafil (Stendra)

These drugs cause an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis. They require sexual stimulation to be effective and should be taken 30-60 minutes before intercourse. 

Other Treatment Options

If medications don’t work or aren’t preferred, there are other treatment options to treat ED from diabetes, including:

  • Hormone therapy. If your testosterone levels are low, testosterone replacement therapy can be recommended to help with ED.
  • Penile injection therapy. Injection of alprostadil (Caverject) directly into the penis before intercourse has been approved for men who don’t respond to oral drug therapy. This hormone injection increases blood supply to the penis to produce an erection.
  • Vacuum pump therapy. A plastic tube connected to a pump is placed over the penis. The pump empties the air out of the tube and causes blood to be drawn into the penis. A ring is then placed at the base of the penis to maintain the erection during intercourse. 
  • Penile prosthesis. Because it requires major surgery, this method is only considered when all other treatments have failed. An inflatable rod is implanted into the penis to make it erect for intercourse. 
  • Psychological support. Counseling can help those experiencing ED that’s caused by psychological conditions, such as depression or anxiety. 

Learn More About Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction from Baptist Health?

To learn more about erectile dysfunction and impotence, find a Baptist Health Endocrinologist near you. 

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