Erectile Dysfunction and Diabetes – What You Need to Know
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual health problem affecting up to 52% of men at some point in their life. However, diabetes and erectile dysfunction are strongly connected with up to 75% of men with diabetes experiencing ED. Fortunately, there are a number of different lifestyle changes and treatments which can help you to avoid or overcome ED.
What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which a man cannot achieve an erection firm enough for sex. Some men with ED cannot get an erection at all, others can get an erection, but are unable to maintain it long enough to have sex. Erectile dysfunction often has a significant effect on your sex life, but can also impact relationships and mental health.
What is diabetes?
‘Diabetes’ refers to a group of conditions in which your body has difficulties regulating the levels of sugar in your blood. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition in which your body cannot produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Most people with type 1 diabetes develop the condition in childhood.
Type 2 diabetes is typically developed later in life and is often related to lifestyle factors such as obesity and poor diet. High levels of sugar in your blood increase the level of insulin in your body. Over time the body becomes less responsive to insulin leading to higher levels of sugar in your blood.
Which type of diabetes causes erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is associated primarily with type 2 diabetes. The risk factors for type 2 diabetes overlap strongly with the risk factors for erectile dysfunction such as increased age, obesity and smoking.
How does diabetes cause erectile dysfunction?
To get and maintain an erection, you need to have healthy blood vessels, nerves and hormone levels. Diabetes can affect all of these factors, increasing your risk of erectile dysfunction.
Diabetes can cause blood vessels to become narrower. When you have an erection, the penis fills with blood. If the vessels that supply the penis become too narrow, the blood flow to the penis may be insufficient to get an erection.
Nerve damage is a common side effect of diabetes, this is why diabetes check-ups often include an assessment of your nerves. High blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels that supply the nerves, which leads to nerve damage. If your nerves are damaged, the signalling pathways that cause an erection may not work leading to ED.
Lastly, diabetes is also associated with lower levels of testosterone. Testosterone is one of the hormones that are required to help you get an erection. Insufficient testosterone levels may make it very difficult to get an erection.
These factors can all contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction, but other lifestyle factors may also increase your risk.
Can prediabetes cause erectile dysfunction?
Prediabetes is a condition in which you have high blood sugar, but it is not high enough to be classed as diabetes. Approximately, 70% of people with prediabetes end up developing diabetes. The high blood sugar levels in prediabetes can lead to blood vessel damage, increasing your risk of ED.
Erectile dysfunction, diabetes and lifestyle
A number of different lifestyle factors increase your risk of developing erectile dysfunction whether you are diabetic or not. These include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Poor diet
You may notice that these are also risk factors for diabetes. Quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, exercising, improving your diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce your risk of ED. Making these changes can also reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Diabetes, erectile dysfunction and blood sugar
If you have diabetes it is important to maintain your blood sugar at healthy levels. Failure to control your blood sugar can lead to a progression of your diabetes and complications, such as nerve damage and impaired blood vessels. Studies have shown that poor blood sugar control does increase your risk of developing ED.
What treatments are available?
There are a number of different treatment options available for erectile dysfunction. These are primarily oral medications called PDE-5 inhibitors. PDE-5 inhibitors are a class of drugs that include popular ED medications such as Viagra, Cialis, Spedra and Levitra. These treatments are only available on prescription, except for Viagra which is available over the counter under the name Viagra Connect.
Some men prefer to use constriction devices such as penis rings or vacuum pumps to help their ED. These can be effective but are usually only recommended if medications do not work for you. If you would like to try a penis pump, speak to a healthcare professional who can help you find a safe and effective device.