It’s estimated that over four million people in the UK suffer from diabetes. The condition, which causes high blood sugar levels, is related to a number of other serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and miscarriage.
Because diabetes causes damage to the nerves and blood vessels it can also cause problems in the bedroom – in fact, up to 75% of men suffering from diabetes will find themselves affected by erectile dysfunction, making it a key men’s health issue.
Though that number is a bit alarming, there is some good news: if you’re diabetic, properly controlling your condition with medication and a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the damage that leads to ED. Read on to find out more.
What causes diabetes?
The first thing to note about diabetes is that there are two types. In type 1, the immune system attacks healthy pancreatic cells. This leaves the pancreas unable to produce insulin, the substance that moves glucose out of your bloodstream into your cells, breaking it down and converting it into energy.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin, or by the body developing a resistance to insulin. In either case, the end result is largely the same: the body cannot move enough glucose out of the bloodstream and convert it into energy.
This type of diabetes is most commonly associated with obesity, however other risk factors include a family history of diabetes, age, and certain medications. To find out whether you may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, visit your nearest LloydsPharmacy for a free test.
The resulting symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include urinating frequently, feeling very thirsty or very tired, losing weight, genital itching or thrush, slow healing wounds, and blurred vision.
Why does diabetes cause erectile dysfunction?
Diabetes causes high levels of glucose in the blood. This in turn causes damage to the blood vessels and, by extension, nerve fibres that are supplied by small blood vessels. It’s not fully understood why high blood sugar has this effect, but we do know that the resulting damage can lead to a number of conditions – including erectile dysfunction.
To achieve a healthy erection, a man requires male hormones, sexual stimulation, and healthy blood vessels and nerves. In the case of poorly managed or undiagnosed diabetes, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves. This damages limits blood flow to the penis, and reduces sensation in the sexual organs.
Diabetes can also lead to conditions like heart disease, which is in itself is a risk factor for ED.
Other erectile dysfunction causes
If you’ve been suffering from ED, it’s not necessarily a sign that you have diabetes – however impotence is frequently a symptom of an underlying condition that should be directly addressed and treated.
Other causes of erectile dysfunction include:
- Heart disease (as mentioned above)
- High blood pressure
- Multiple sclerosis
- An overactive or underactive thyroid
- Depression or anxiety
- Injury to the penis
- Medicines such as beta-blockers, antidepressants and corticosteroids
Impotence can also be caused by lifestyle factors such as eating an unhealthy diet that causes you to gain weight, smoking, and drinking too much.
If you do develop ED, it’s important to speak to a doctor about it, as it could be a sign of a condition that requires treatment, or a signal that it’s time to make some lifestyle changes.
Treatments for diabetes and erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction that has been caused by diabetes is not always easy to control. However, if you can manage your diabetes well, you can help to mitigate the damage done to your blood vessels and nerves.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are managed slightly differently. Type 1 requires regular insulin injections, or the use of an insulin pump. You also have to monitor your blood sugar regularly, and be prepared to treat high or low blood sugar by adjusting your diet and/or insulin dose. You may also need to take medication to counteract your increased risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
Type 2 diabetes is usually managed by making changes to your lifestyle. You will be advised to eat more healthily, exercise regularly and, if you are overweight, lose weight. Medications for type 2 diabetes include metformin and insulin.
Like type 2 diabetes, lifestyle changes are often recommended for men suffering from erectile dysfunction. Losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising more often, and reducing your alcohol intake can all help to improve impotence.
As a short-term solution, PDE-5 inhibitors can be very helpful. These are a group of medicines that come in tablet form. Often referred to as ‘ED tablets’ they work by temporarily increasing blood flow to the penis. Provided you are sexually aroused, this should enable a healthy erection. PDE-5 inhibitors are a good treatment option for diabetic men, as they do not interact negatively with diabetic medicines such as insulin and metformin.
The most famous PDE-5 inhibitor is Viagra, however others include Cialis and Levitra, which is thought to be slightly more effective in diabetic men than the other tablets.
To find out more about erectile dysfunction, and the treatments available, visit our Erectile Dysfunction Clinic.