Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Two recent studies offer information and hope to men who have diabetes and erectile dysfunction. The studies have indicated that healthy lifestyle changes as well as certain medicines can help men with diabetes improve their sexual function.

In one new study, published in the February 2007 issue of The American Journal of Medicine, researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, set out to learn how common erectile dysfunction is in American men and what the biggest risk factors are for the condition. By studying data from more than 2,100 men who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), they found that 18.4% of men aged 20 or older had erectile dysfunction. This rate translates to more than 18 million adult men in the United States being affected.

The researchers found that rates of erectile dysfunction were much higher in men with diabetes, however—more than 50% of men with diabetes in the study reported that they were “never able” or “sometimes able” to achieve and maintain an erection. Men with cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) or cardiovascular risk factors—such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking—were also at increased risk for erectile dysfunction, as were men who were not very physically active. Increasing age was also strongly tied to risk for the condition—in fact, 70% of the people in the study who reported erectile dysfunction were 70 years of age or older.

While this news may sound discouraging at first, the study’s researchers were quick to point out that steps taken to control diabetes and reduce cardiovascular risk can also help men improve their sexual function. The researchers also stated that diet and lifestyle changes undertaken to manage diabetes and promote heart health can do double duty by lowering a man’s chances of developing erectile dysfunction in the first place.

Another study, published in Issue 1, 2007, of The Cochrane Library journal, reviewed eight previous studies about using drugs to treat erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes. In those studies, the drugs sildenafil (brand name Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis), all in a class known as phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors, were compared to placebo treatment in over 1,700 men with erectile dysfunction, 80% of whom had Type 2 diabetes. Most of the studies lasted about 12 weeks.

The review found that the men who had received PDE-5 inhibitors showed significant improvements on multiple measures of quality of sexual life when compared with the men who received placebo pills. Men who received PDE-5 inhibitors were also more likely to experience mild side effects, such as headache and flushing. The researchers concluded that drugs in this class are “efficient and safe for this specific wide population.”

If you are affected by erectile dysfunction, make sure to discuss the issue with your health-care provider, who can work with you to find an appropriate method (or methods) of treatment. You may also want to check out our article on Sexual Wellness.

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