Diabetes Self-Management Articles

These articles cover a wide range of subjects, from the most basic aspects of diabetes care to the nitty-gritty specifics.

Links not loading properly?

Some of our pages use Portable Document Format (PDF) files, which require Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download Acrobat Reader for free, visit www.adobe.com.

Sign up for our weekly e-mail newsletter and receive a FREE GIFT! Enter your e-mail below.

Learn more

Learn more about diabetes

Links to help you learn more about diabetes.

Ask a diabetes expert
Other diabetes resources
Browse article topics

 

When Viagra Doesn’t Work
Treating Erectile Dysfunction

by Ann Ezzell and Neil Baum, M.D.

Erectile dysfunction is a common occurrence in men with diabetes. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, from 5% in men age 20 to 75% in men over age 65. The cause of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes is usually related to a decrease in the blood supply to the penis as well as to injury to the nerves that are responsible for the erection mechanism. A decrease in testosterone production has also been identified as the cause in some men with diabetes.

Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis] and vardenafil [Levitra], both of which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.

Why therapy fails

There are a number of reasons a man may not achieve the desired result from an oral erectile dysfunction drug. In some cases, a man may experience drug side effects severe enough to outweigh any potential benefit of taking the drug. Possible side effects of these drugs include headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, and transient abnormal vision. (In October 2007, the FDA added a warning about sudden hearing loss to the package labels of oral erectile dysfunction drugs. While it’s not absolutely clear that the drugs can cause sudden hearing loss, a number of cases have been reported in men within hours or days of taking one of the drugs.)

Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.

Yet another reason for the drugs not to work as intended is the consumption of a high-fat meal before or along with taking the drug. The fat in such a meal can decrease absorption of the medicine from the gastrointestinal tract.

It’s also possible for anxiety about intercourse after a prolonged period of abstinence, fear of side effects, or unaddressed psychological issues such as guilt or religious concerns about engaging in sexual intimacy to interfere with the ability to get and maintain an erection.

In many of these cases, a discussion between the physician, the man with erectile dysfunction, and possibly his partner can help to resolve the issues leading to treatment failure. For men who experience severe side effects, can’t take the drugs for other reasons (such as taking medicines such as nitroglycerin), or don’t respond in spite of further education on the correct use of the drugs, there are other treatment options that can help most men remain sexually active.

Using oral drugs properly

For oral erectile dysfunction medicines to work as desired, they must be used properly in the first place. This means taking the medicine 30–45 minutes before engaging in sexual intimacy; taking the drug on an empty stomach or at least avoiding a heavy or high-fat meal before taking the drug (this is especially important when using sildenafil); and engaging in adequate genital stimulation before attempting intercourse. Drinking small amounts of alcohol (one to two drinks) should not compromise the effectiveness of erectile dysfunction medicines, but larger amounts of alcohol can diminish a man’s ability to have an erection.

A man needs to try the medicine at least four times before he concludes that it doesn’t work for him. It is unlikely that a man with diabetes who has other medical problems such as high blood pressure, is taking multiple medicines, and has not had sexual intercourse for several years will be able to have an erection adequate for intercourse the first time he takes a pill. Most men need to try the medicine several times before they have the desired results.

Some doctors prefer to start a man on the lowest dose of an oral medicine and increase the dose until an effective one is found. Others prefer to start with the highest dose and go to a lower dose only if a man complains of side effects. In either case, it’s important for a man to communicate with his doctor to let him know how the dose he’s using is working.

For some men, daily administration of a low dose of one of the oral medicines may result in improved blood supply to the penis, resulting in better erections.

Switching from one of the oral medicines to another may be tried before proceeding to a more invasive or costlier treatment. However, there are few studies that show any one of the drugs being significantly more effective than another.

Low testosterone

Before a man concludes that oral drugs don’t work for him, he should have his testosterone levels checked to rule out hormone deficiency as the cause of (or as a contributor to) his sexual dysfunction. Other symptoms of low testosterone include a low sex drive and infertility. Checking testosterone levels requires a blood test. If a man’s levels of testosterone are decreased or at the lower end of normal, his doctor may prescribe supplemental testosterone therapy, either as testosterone injections or testosterone gel, which is applied daily to the skin. In some cases, testosterone therapy alone can resolve sexual dysfunction, or it can be combined with the use of oral erectile dysfunction drugs.

Combining treatments

Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.

Alprostadil can also be injected directly into the penis. A very small needle about the size of those used to inject insulin is used for this purpose, so any pain or discomfort should be minimal. Penile injections can be used alone or in combination with an oral drug.

Yet another common erectile dysfunction treatment that can be used in combination with oral drugs is a vacuum pump. This device consists of a plastic cylinder, a pump, a set of constriction bands, and a water-soluble lubricant. The lubricant is applied to the base of the penis to help form an airtight seal. The cylinder is placed over the flaccid penis and held tight against the pelvis. The pump is used to create a vacuum within the cylinder, drawing blood into the penis. Once the penis is engorged with blood, a constriction band is rolled off the cylinder to near the base of the penis. The constriction band is helpful for men with venous leakage, in which blood flows out of the penis as fast as it flows in. However, it should be left on for no more than 30 minutes at a time.

Surgery

Surgery for erectile dysfunction is usually considered only after all other options have failed. The two surgical options include the insertion of a semi-rigid rod or the implantation of a three-piece inflatable prosthesis. Penile prosthesis implantation has low infection, complication, and malfunction rates. However, since placement of an implant requires permanent injury to the erectile tissue of the penis, implant treatment is considered irreversible.

For more information about the various options for treating erectile dysfunction, check out “Drugs and Devices for Erectile Dysfunction.”

The emotional side

No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.

Seeing a psychologist or sex therapist, therefore, can be helpful for many men or couples, even if the origins of sexual dysfunction are physical. A therapist can help an individual or couple to communicate more easily, feel less anxious, and develop realistic expectations for sex.

The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.

Page    1    2    3    Show All    

 

 

More articles on Sexual Health

 

 


Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

 

 

Sex in Vegas
Hey, team: I'm speaking in Las Vegas next week at the annual meeting of the American Association... Blog

Sexual Health and Weight
Sex and body weight — these two topics can be difficult to discuss on their own, let... Blog

What should I keep in mind if I'm switching from syringes to insulin pens? Get tip