Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction

Male patient in gown sitting on exam table in discussion with doctor in exam room
Thomas Barwick/Taxi/Getty Images

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition that affects a man's ability to get and sustain an erection that leads to positive sexual experiences. Although most men do encounter trouble having an erection from time to time, the problem is not generally thought to be ED unless the symptoms are consistent for 3 months or more.

What Does ED Have to Do With Diabetes?

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), erectile dysfunction (ED) is common for men who have diabetes.

Often, it's the first symptom that men may notice and the one that leads them to the doctor in the first place. Only after they have sought medical help for ED do they also receive a diagnosis of diabetes. Fifty percent of men with diabetes will suffer from ED within 10 years of diagnosis.

How Does Diabetes Cause ED?

The same elevated blood glucose levels that cause blood vessel and nerve damage in other parts of the body can also lead to complications in blood flow and nerve damage to the penis.

Heart disease and diabetes are often linked together because coronary artery damage is a complication of diabetes as well. Coronary artery disease can affect sexual function on its own, but erectile dysfunction is nine times as likely in men who suffer from both coronary artery disease (CAD) and diabetes than men who have diabetes without the addition of CAD. Erectile dysfunction is so prevalent in both coronary artery disease and diabetes, that it could be considered a risk factor for both.

If a man is suffering from ED, his doctor should suggest screening for CAD and diabetes.


The longer a man has had diabetes, the more likely he will suffer from ED. Also if blood glucose levels have not been well controlled throughout the illness, blood vessel and nerve damage will be greater.

Complications of accompanying heart diseases such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can also affect ED. A man with diabetes who also smokes increases his risk of developing ED.

Commonly Prescribed Medications 

People with diabetes frequently take medications to lower blood pressure. Some common prescription blood pressure medications are known to cause ED, such as some diuretics and beta blockers. Certain antidepressants also can cause ED. Discuss your medications with your doctor, if ED is a concern. Sometimes different medications can be prescribed that don't have ED as a side effect.

Medications That Treat Erectile Dysfunction

Prescription medications such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are used to treat ED. All three of these medications work the same way, by helping increase blood flow to the penis. This helps erectile function and enables a man to have and sustain an erection during sexual intimacy. The medications are taken a half hour before sex and the effects can last from 4 to 5 hours. These drugs do have some serious side effects so talk over this option with your doctor, and make sure that he or she knows your entire medical history and all other medications that you take.


"Complications: Diabetes and Men's Sexual Health." Sept. 2006. Canadian Diabetes Association. 18 May 2007.

Lakin, MD, Milton. "Erectile Dysfunction." Endocrinology Med Index. 18 Apr 2005. The Cleveland Clinic. 18 May 2007.

Stefano Giordanetti, M.D.; Emanuela De Amici, M.D.; Gianandrea Bertone, M.D.; Colomba Falcone, M.D.; Diego Geroldi, M.D.; Pietro Fratino, M.D.; Sebastiano Solerte, M.D.; and Adriana Garzaniti, M.D., "Erectile Dysfunction in Diabetic Men May Predict Silent Heart Disease." Live and Learn. 21 Jun 2004. American Heart Association. 18 May 2007.

"Possible Side Effects of Drugs That Lower Blood Pressure." Live and Learn. American Heart Association. 18 May 2007.

"Erectile Dysfunction." National Kidney and Urologic Disease Information Clearinghouse. Sept. 2005. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 18 May 2007.