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The Link Between Diabetes and ED

Oct 22, 2010

Approximately 50% of men with diabetes experience erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to maintain an erection firm enough for satisfying sex.

According to the August 2010 issue of Diabetes Forecast, a publication of the American Diabetes Association, “roughly half” of diabetic men have this problem.  Also, the longer a man has diabetes, the greater his chances of eventually developing ED.

Diabetes may cause men to start having ED symptoms at an earlier age, too.  The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) reports that diabetic men may experience ED ten to fifteen years earlier than men who don’t have diabetes. 

How does diabetes cause ED?

When a healthy man is sexually aroused, a signal travels from his brain to his penis through a system of nerves.  This signal, essentially, tells muscles and blood vessels to relax and expand, allowing more blood to flow into the penis, creating an erection. 

However, diabetes can damage the nerves and blood vessels.  If nerves are damaged (a condition called neuropathy), the signal can’t travel properly.  The man may want to have sex, but his penis doesn’t get the message.  If blood vessels are damaged, they may not allow enough blood to flow into the penis for the man to get a satisfactory erection.

What can be done?

Fortunately, there are a number of treatments for ED that are safe for men with diabetes.  Medications, surgical procedures, injections, and devices like penis pumps are all viable options.  Some men benefit from seeing a therapist or attending counseling with his partner, as ED can cause depression, anxiety, work difficulties, and problems in a couple’s relationship.

One of the best ways for men with diabetes to prevent erectile problems is to manage their blood glucose levels.  Making other healthy choices, like exercising and keeping cholesterol under control, can also help.