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Sex Health Blog

Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction

Sep 21, 2011

Did you know there’s a connection between diabetes and erectile dysfunction (ED)?

It’s a strong one, in fact. The American Diabetes Association estimates that about half of men with diabetes will eventually experience ED. Men with diabetes may also develop ED ten to fifteen years earlier than those who don’t have diabetes. Often, diabetic men have more severe cases of ED.

Erectile dysfunction is the inability to have an erection firm enough for satisfying sex. You may have a desire for sex, but there’s a disconnect between what your libido says and what your body does.

ED is frustrating for many men and their partners. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and relationship issues. Fortunately, a number of treatments are available.

Let’s look at some of the key issues surrounding ED and diabetes.

Neuropathy

Our nerves are responsible for transmitting thousands of electrical messages around the body. These messages tell our body how to stimuli, including sexual stimulation.

Many people with diabetes develop neuropathy, a nerve disease that limits the transmission of these messages. Scientists aren’t sure why this happens. Some believe that high blood sugar produces abnormal proteins that damage nerves. Or, blood sugar may directly interfere with message transmission.

Between 60 and 70 percent of diabetics eventually develop neuropathy somewhere in the body. In many cases, neuropathy worsens over time.

Diabetic men with erectile dysfunction develop autonomic neuropathy. This means the nerve damage interferes with body processes you don’t control, like digesting food or knowing when to use the bathroom. Erection is another of these processes.

Atherosclerosis

Diabetics are prone to developing atherosclerosis - a hardening, or thickening, of the arteries.

When a man has an erection, his penis fills with blood. When he’s sexually aroused, the penile arteries expand to allow blood flow in. Once the penis is firm enough, veins constrict to keep the blood in until he ejaculates. Then, the blood is released back into the body.

As you might expect, atherosclerosis can limit or block blood flow into the penis. Without sufficient blood, the man will not have the firmness he needs for sex.

What can be done?

If you have erectile dysfunction and diabetes, take action. Remember, your sexual health is important to your overall health.

·         Talk to your doctor. Find out how well you’re managing your diabetes. Are there other steps your should be taking? Are there other conditions that may be contributing to your ED, such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease? Could any of your medications be triggering ED? If so, can they be safely adjusted?

·         Take good care of your diabetes. It may sound simple, but many people let things slide. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. Check your blood sugar regularly and keep it under control. It may help to keep a diary of your sugar readings and ED episodes and share that information with your doctor.

·         Exercise. Play basketball with your buddies or take a walk around the block with your partner. Exercise keeps your blood moving, which can help with atherosclerosis. Exercise can also help alleviate any depression or anxiety you might have over ED. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

·         Explore your treatment options. There are a variety of erectile dysfunction treatments available, including medications, penile suppositories, injections, vacuum devices, vascular surgery, and implants. Some men need to experiment with different treatments before they find the one that works best for them.

·        Communicate with your partner. Erectile dysfunction is tough on couples. You might feel embarrassed, inadequate, or concerned that you can’t please your partner. But don’t sweep the situation under the rug. Chances are, your partner will want to talk about it, too. Being open and honest about it will help you decide on the right treatment path. For some tips on discussing ED with your partner, click here.

·         Consider counseling, if necessary. A qualified therapist can help you work through some of the confusion, anxiety, and depression that can come with erectile dysfunction. Counseling can also help you and your partner work through any problems in your relationship.

·         Keep up to date with ED treatments. For example, researchers recently finished the third phase of a clinical trial for avanafil, a drug that can help diabetic men with ED.

Diabetes doesn’t have to interfere with your sex life. With patience and proper care, you and your partner can enjoy intimacy without the anxiety of erectile dysfunction.