How diabetes can affect your erection

What you need to know about diabetes and erectile dysfunction


Technically, diabetes and erectile are two separate conditions and there are many causes of erectile dysfunction, both physical and psychological, diabetes is one of the most common causes.

Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to have acceptable sexual intercourse. Studies into erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes show that the incidence of ED ranges from 35 - 75% as opposed to 26% of the male population as a whole.  It has also been shown that the onset of ED in men with diabetes is 10 - 15 years sooner than the male population in general.

In addition, it has been established in a study carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong that men with diabetes who are experiencing erectile dysfunction are about one and a half times more likely to have some kind of cardiac ‘event’ which includes a fatal or non-fatal heart attack or surgery to treat heart disease.

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Types of diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes - in this type of diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. This is as a result of an autoimmune response whereby the body’s own defence mechanism attacks and destroys the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. About 10% of diabetes sufferers have type 1 and although it can develop at any age it is more commonly seen in children and young adults. Treatment of type one diabetes is via insulin which is used to control blood sugar levels.

  • Type 2 diabetes - this type of diabetes accounts for around 90% of diabetes seen in the population and commonly develops in people aged over 45. This, however, is changing and type 2 is more commonly being seen in children, adolescents and young adults as a direct result of increasing obesity, inactivity and poor diet. The body has become resistant to insulin; as a result, blood glucose levels continue to rise to force the pancreas to release more insulin. Eventually, this can exhaust the pancreas and so less and less insulin is produced causing blood sugar to rise even more. Type 2 diabetes management is mainly by eating a healthy diet, increasing activity levels and generally keeping fit. If necessary, oral medication and insulin may be prescribed to help control blood sugar levels.


Complications of diabetes

There are a number of complications that are associated with diabetes:

  • There is a dramatic increase in the risk of developing heart and circulation problems as a result of having diabetes. Problems can include coronary artery disease, angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries
  • Damage to the nervous system (neuropathy) is associated with diabetes; excess sugar in the capillaries (peripheral blood vessels) that nourish the nervous system, particularly in the legs. The damage may at first be felt as tingling, numbness, burning or pain in the toes and fingers and this will gradually spread upwards.

If this is not treated then a person can lose all sensation in the limbs. Nerve damage in the digestive organs can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea, nauseous or constipation. If the nerve damage is in the reproductive organs of men it can lead to erectile dysfunction.

  • The kidneys contain millions of capillaries that filter waste from the body. Damage to these capillaries which is caused by diabetes also damages this filtering system. Severe damage to this tissue can result in irreversible damage to the kidneys and may result in a person requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant Diabetes can also damage the blood vessels of the retina, diabetic retinopathy. This can lead to cataracts, glaucoma or ultimately blindness
  • Poor circulation to the feet and legs can lead ultimately to amputation
  • Diabetes sufferers are more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections of the skin
  • Hearing problems are more common in people suffering from diabetes#Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of developing dementia; the risk appears to increase the poorer the blood sugar control is. These, however, are just theories and have yet to be proved
  • Depression is more likely on both type 1 and type 2 diabetes


How diabetic complications can contribute to or cause erectile dysfunction

Although we have discussed to some extent how diabetes can be involved in causing erectile dysfunction, the mechanics can be quite complex. As we have covered the fact that a reduced blood supply to the penis and nerve damage to the genitals can result in erectile dysfunction occurring, in addition, diabetic men tend to have lower levels of testosterone than men who are not diabetic, meaning that their sex drive may be reduced.


Other causes of ED

There are also other conditions, more commonly seen in diabetic men, that will contribute to erectile dysfunction. These include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart problems
  • Hormone production problems
  • Depression

In addition, there may be contributory lifestyle factors such as:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity


Treatments for diabetic men with erectile dysfunction


A number of erectile medications are now available which may be suitable for use by diabetic men. They include:

  • Viagra (sildenafil)
  • Levitra (vardenafil)
  • Staxyn (vardenafil)
  • Cialis (tadalafil)
  • Adcirca (tadalafil)
  • Spedra (avanafil)
  • Stendra (avanafil)

Some drugs used when treating diabetes may interact with erectile medication and they include blood thinners and alpha-blockers so it is important that before embarking on the use of any of these drugs you seek the advice of a medical professional.


Other treatments for ED

Other treatments include:

  • Testosterone therapy may be useful in the treatment of men suffering from low testosterone levels
  • Penile injection therapy - an injection of alprostadil is administered into the base of the penis prior to sexual intercourse which will result in an erection being produced
  • Alprostadil can also be administered as a suppository which is inserted into the end of the urethra or as a cream which is applied on the end of the penis
  • Vacuum pump therapy involves a plastic tube which is placed over the penis and a pump extracts the air from the tube which creates a vacuum which in turn will result in blood flowing into the penis.  A ring is then placed at the base of the penis so that the blood cannot flow out of the penis and the erection is maintained
  • A penile prosthesis is probably the last treatment to be considered when all else has failed as it requires major surgery


Lifestyle changes that may help

The better your diabetes is controlled, the lower the risk of developing erectile dysfunction.  Other lifestyle measures which can be considered include:

  • Lose weight - even a small weight loss in men with diabetes can improve erectile function and sexual desire
  • Stop smoking - stopping smoking has the effect of improving blood supply in a relatively short length of time
  • Take regular exercise - increased regular activity will result in improved blood supply in the body
  • Eat a healthy diet - this will help to reduce cholesterol and saturated fats which can be contributory factors in ED
  • Reduce stress levels - stress alongside ED caused by physical factors can make matters worse; ED itself can result in a relationship being strained and so counselling may prove helpful



Diabetes is a chronic condition and despite the fact that it can be controlled with medication and diet, it is a condition which a person has for life.  Erectile dysfunction is not a foregone conclusion and there are sufferers who do not experience this problem.

Taking good care of your health, not smoking, keeping alcohol consumption down to a minimum, reducing stress and getting enough sleep will all help to prevent erectile dysfunction ever becoming an issue.

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