Diabetes is an example of an endocrine disease that can cause a person to experience impotence. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to utilize the hormone insulin. One of the side effects associated with chronic diabetes is nerve damage. This affects penis sensations. Other complications associated with diabetes are impaired blood flow and hormone levels. Both of these factors can contribute to impotence.


The common PDE5 inhibitor drugs approved in the United States are sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn, the generic form), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra). All of the currently approved PDE5 inhibitors work in the same way. They differ in the number of available doses, how quickly they work and last in your system, the dosing, and to some extent in the side effects. However, they generally share the same indications and contraindications. Currently, tadalafil is the only medication that patients can take on a daily basis and is approved for the treatment of both ED and BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
Stress is your body responding to your environment. And it’s a good thing—in limited doses. When you get stressed out your body makes chemicals like adrenaline that make you stronger, faster, fitter, and even able to think more clearly. Most people call this reaction the “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s a life-saver in dangerous situations. In a very real sense, adrenaline makes you a part-time superhero. The problems happen when your body deals with constant stress.
Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: This class of medications includes sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. They work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), allowing more blood to enter the penis and helping to produce an erection. These medications are often taken before sex and will cause an erection only when the man is sexually stimulated.
Endocrine problems, though uncommon, should be considered in patients presenting with impotence. As a rule, impotence due to hypogonadism will be partial and accompanied by decreased libido. Hypothalmic–pituitary problems, which include tumors, are the most common endocrine disorders causing impotence, followed by primary gonadal failure from one of many causes. Poorly controlled diabetes with polyuria and polydypsia is an important reversible cause of impotence, as is hyperthyroidism. Certain drugs, alcohol included, can lead to impotence as a result of endocrine disturbances.
The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
The severity of ED has been correlated with the extent of CVD. Banks et al reported that the risk of future CV events increased progressively according to ED severity.28 This was shown in both men with and without known CVD at baseline and after controlling for confounders. Solomon and colleagues found an inverse correlation between international index of erectile function (IIEF) scores and plaque burden seen on coronary angiography.29 In addition, Yaman et al demonstrated a significant correlation between ED severity on IIEF questionnaires and coronary artery calcification.30
The physical side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy agents, such as Ciplatin or Vincristine, may interfere with the nerves that control erection leading to possible impotence. Make sure you discuss potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Inside the cell, NOS catalyzes the oxidation of L-arginine to NO and L-citrulline. Endogenous blockers of this pathway have been identified. The gaseous NO that is produced acts as a neurotransmitter or paracrine messenger. Its biologic half-life is only 5 seconds. NO may act within the cell or diffuse and interact with nearby target cells. In the corpora cavernosa, NO activates guanylate cyclase, which in turn increases cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Relaxation of vascular smooth muscles by cGMP leads to vasodilation and increased blood flow.
The drugs work best in combination with sex therapy. Several studies have shown this. There’s more to satisfying sex than just an erection. The quality of the relationship is crucial, especially if sex has been a sore point or if the couple hasn’t had much for a while. To find a sex therapist near you, visit the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, or the American Board of Sexology.

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of ED. Chronically high blood sugar levels can result in nerve damage that affects your body’s ability to translate pleasurable sexual stimulation into an erection. Diabetes can also lead to issues with circulation, which reduces blood flow to the penis and makes it more difficult to keep an erection that is hard enough for intercourse.


Men are very susceptible to visual stimulation, particularly as children and teenagers. Seeing anything appealing (say, a person or image) activates pathways in the brain that tell nerves in your lower spinal cord to trigger a release of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessel walls and floods your penis with blood, making it hard. Nitric oxide is the key chemical here, as you need a mix released from your nerves AND from your blood vessels to get an erection. If the blood vessels, nerves, or both are damaged, it's difficult to get a hard erection. That's why your doctor may well be interested if you're struggling with erections, as it could be a sign of early heart disease or diabetes.
The first step in treating the patient with ED is to take a thorough sexual, medical, and psychosocial history. Questionnaires are available to assist clinicians in obtaining important patient data. (See Presentation.) Successful treatment of sexual dysfunction has been demonstrated to improve sexual intimacy and satisfaction, improve sexual aspects of quality of life, improve overall quality of life, and relieve symptoms of depression. (See Treatment.)
For example, many men with diabetes mellitus may develop erectile dysfunction during their young and middle adult years. Physicians, diabetes educators, and patients and their families are sometimes unaware of this potential complication. Whatever the causal factors, discomfort of patients and health care providers in discussing sexual issues becomes a barrier to pursuing treatment.
Three forms of penile prostheses are available for patients who fail with or refuse other forms of therapy: semirigid, malleable, and inflatable. The effectiveness, complications, and acceptability vary among the three types of prostheses, with the main problems being mechanical failure, infection, and erosions. Silicone particle shedding has been reported, including migration to regional lymph nodes; however, no clinically identifiable problems have been reported as a result of the silicone particles. There is a risk of the need for reoperation with all devices. Although the inflatable prostheses may yield a more physiologically natural appearance, they have had a higher rate of failure requiring reoperation. Men with diabetes mellitus, spinal cord injuries, or urinary tract infections have an increased risk of prosthesis-associated infection. This form of treatment may not be appropriate in patients with severe penile corporal fibrosis, or severe medical illness. Circumcision may be required for patients with phimosis and balanitis.
The pathogenesis of organic ED is related to dysfunction of the endothelium. Endothelial cells can become injured through a variety of mechanisms, most of which cause oxidative stress on the tissues. Many of these causes of oxidative stress are related to lifestyle issues which lead to hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidaemia (figure 1). Endothelial cell dysfunction results in reduction of endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation as well as increased adhesion of leukocytes to the endothelium. Endothelial cell injury then leads to a variety of sequelae, including ED, other types of vasoconstriction, atherosclerosis and thrombus formation.18
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Appallingly little is known about the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in the United States and how this prevalence varies according to individual characteristics (age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and concomitant diseases and conditions). Data on erectile dysfunction available from the 1940's applied to the present U.S. male population produce an estimate of erectile dysfunction prevalence of 7 million.
In patients who either fail to respond to first or second-line therapy, or are not interested in the conservative therapies, penile prosthesis implantation is available. Malleable and rigid implants were available for many years, but in 1973 the world of penile prosthetics took a giant leap forward with the advent of the inflatable penile implant. Most implants done nowadays are of the inflatable variety. Adverse events including malfunction and infection are rare, and patient satisfaction is very high.45
One study examined the role of testosterone supplementation in hypogonadal men with ED. These men were considered nonresponders to sildenafil, and their erections were monitored by assessing nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT). After these men were given testosterone transdermally for 6 months, the number of NPTs increased, as did the maximum rigidity with sildenafil. [18] This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme. [24] The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.

Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
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Both ED and low testosterone (hypogonadism) increase with age. The incidence of the latter is 40% in men aged 45 years and older. [15] Testosterone is known to be important in mood, cognition, vitality, bone health, and muscle and fat composition. It also plays a key role in sexual dysfunction (eg, low libido, poor erection quality, ejaculatory or orgasmic dysfunction, reduced spontaneous erections, or reduced sexual activity). [16]
Don’t give up or blame yourself - you shouldn’t assume that your situation is impossible to improve or that your partner is disappointed in you. Studies show as long as you don’t stop trying to engage your partner sexually, they will still respond positively. If you communicate and stay positive you can work with your partner to get the result you’re looking for.

Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In patients who either fail to respond to first or second-line therapy, or are not interested in the conservative therapies, penile prosthesis implantation is available. Malleable and rigid implants were available for many years, but in 1973 the world of penile prosthetics took a giant leap forward with the advent of the inflatable penile implant. Most implants done nowadays are of the inflatable variety. Adverse events including malfunction and infection are rare, and patient satisfaction is very high.45
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