Diabetes and erectile dysfunction: The facts
Dr. Aysha Butt is the Medical Director of FROM MARS, and is a GP Partner at Woodcote NHS Medical Practice.
If you’ve got diabetes, you might experience erectile dysfunction (ED). This means you’re struggling to get hard or stay hard.
ED is perfectly normal, so try not to stress. If it’s happened to you, or you’re worried that it might, we’ve got the low down on why diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction and what you can do about it.
HOW DOES DIABETES CAUSE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION?
To get and keep an erection, a number of physical and psychological things need to happen all at the same time. That means your body and your mind both need to be in the right place.
- Your circulatory system needs to pump enough blood to your penis to make it hard
- Your nerves must carry signals from your brain
- You need the right levels of sex hormones
- You should be aroused
Diabetes can interfere with two of these. Increased levels of sugar and fat in the body over long periods can damage blood vessels and nerves, disrupting the flow of blood and the signals needed to get and maintain an erection.
That means even if you have the desire and the sex hormones are there, diabetes can get in the way, resulting in ED.
If this has happened to you, you’re definitely not on your own. Up to 75% of diabetic men experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. It also tends to appear 10 to 15 years earlier in men with diabetes than those without.
If you’ve got type 2 diabetes, you’re more likely to experience problems with erections. Almost half of men with type 2 develop erectile dysfunction within 5 to 10 years of diagnosis.
But it doesn’t need to signal the end of your sex life.
CAN DIABETES MEDICATIONS CAUSE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION?
All medications have side effects, but diabetes medications don’t typically cause erectile dysfunction.
However, some drugs that you might be taking alongside your diabetes medication can, including those that lower blood pressure. If you’re worried about the side effects of any medication you’re taking, speak to your doctor.
IS ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION A SIGN OF DIABETES?
There are loads of different causes of ED. Diabetes is just one of many.
If you’ve experienced problems, it could be due to a whole host of reasons, some more serious than others.
But while ED might be common, it’s not something to ignore. It can damage your confidence, put pressure on relationships, and can be a sign that something is up with your health. Here you can learn more about the causes of erectile dysfunction and what you can do about it.
HOW TO TREAT ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION FOR MEN WITH DIABETES
If you have diabetes and you’re worried about ED, the first step to take is to speak to your doctor. They can diagnose the potential cause and advise on what to do to treat it.
These are some of the treatments they might suggest:
LEAD A HEALTHIER LIFE
The great news is that research has shown that even small beneficial lifestyle changes can improve the quality of erections for men with diabetes.
Getting control of your diabetes, your weight, and your cholesterol levels can help with erectile dysfunction, even if you have blood vessel and nerve damage. And there’s plenty of other benefits to feeling a bit healthier all-round.
Consider the following:
- Losing weight if you’re overweight: Being overweight can make it harder for your body to control insulin levels, and it can worsen the nerve and blood vessel damage caused by diabetes. Even small losses of weight can have an impact on erectile dysfunction.
- Getting more exercise: Exercise can help with weight loss, can promote heart strength and blood flow around the body, and it can raise testosterone levels too.
- Eating a diabetes-friendly diet: Eating foods that will better help you manage your blood sugar levels will lessen any further blood vessel and nerve damage. Eating a suitable diet can also improve your energy levels and mood too.
- Stopping smoking: Smoking can narrow blood vessels, further reducing blood flow to the penis.
- Cutting back on alcohol and recreational drugs: Being drunk can make it harder to get an erection, and over time, drinking can damage blood vessels. Certain recreational drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, can also make it difficult to get hard and can cause long-term damage.
Your doctor may prescribe an oral medication such as Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), and Levitra (vardenafil). You might worry that you can’t take drugs like Viagra if you have diabetes, but as long as you don’t have heart problems, diabetes shouldn’t stop you from taking them.
If you’ve got any concerns, always discuss them with your doctor.
VACUUM CONSTRICTIVE DEVICES (VCDS)
This is basically a pump that fits over your penis. The pump forms a seal around the penis before the air is pumped out to create a vacuum, encouraging blood to flow into it. The erection is maintained once the pump is removed, by fitting a band around the base of the penis.
INJECTIONS AND SUPPOSITORIES
If oral medications or VCDs aren’t effective, a range of drugs can be delivered directly to your penis before sex. They can be injected into the penis, or a small pill (suppository) can be inserted into the urethra.
They tend to take around 15 minutes to work, with erections lasting from between 30 and 60 minutes.
GETTING MORE SUPPORT FOR ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION
Remember when we said that both your body and your head need to be right?
That means that tackling the physical causes of ED might be just half of the battle. Some of the causes are physiological, and often the physical and the mental sides go hand-in-hand.
What might begin as a physical problem can become a psychological one too. If you become anxious or depressed about getting erections, you may decide you want to speak to a mental healthcare professional.
Your doctor should be able to refer you to NHS mental health services, although there can be waiting lists for these depending on which region you live in. You can also try finding a private therapist or counsellor.
Although erectile dysfunction can be common with diabetes, don’t sweat it. You can treat it, and you can soon get back to having the sex you want.