Is There a Link Between Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction?

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Erectile dysfunction

Often abbreviated to ED, is a topic that many men choose to ignore, often to the detriment of their own health, as well as that of their relationship.

It is often seen as a condition affecting older men and hence may be sidelined as a symptom of “just getting old”. Yet it is surprisingly common, affecting around one in four men over the age of 30 at some point in their life.

Erectile dysfunction can be divided into temporary and long term. For younger men it is often a minor hiccup at the start of a new relationship and even carries the term “performance anxiety”. This tends to settle with time and becoming comfortable with your new partner.

Getting morning erections is usually a sign that all is well and there is less reason to worry. However persistent ED should not be ignored, no matter the degree of embarrassment, or the feeling that you “just don’t want to bother the doctor”.

An erection is achieved by the feeling of sexual arousal. At this point blood flows into the arteries of the penis and it becomes swollen and erect. These same arteries compress the veins draining the penis; hence blood cannot leave the organ and erection is maintained.

After ejaculation, the flow to these arteries is reduced. The veins can now drain the blood from the organ; hence your erection goes.

Any disease that affects the arteries in the rest of the body can cause erectile dysfunction consequently. It is estimated that ED can occur in those at risk of heart disease up to five years before any symptoms that you would typically associate with the condition such as chest pain and shortness of breath.


A link with diabetes

Similarly, diabetes damages the arteries and nerves, with erectile dysfunction often being a side effect. This is particularly true for those with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes or where the condition is poorly controlled.

While type 1 diabetes will make you rapidly ill, and is a medical emergency unless treated immediately, type 2 diabetes may go unnoticed for several years, especially if your sugars are borderline raised.

Everyone in the UK between the ages of 40-74 is eligible for an “NHS health check” every five years. This tests for pre or actual diabetes among other conditions.


Symptoms to be aware of

Symptoms of diabetes that should have you making an urgent appointment with your GP are as follows, excessive thirst and urination, blurred vision, recurrent genital thrush and weight loss. Sometimes a vague but persistent feeling of unwell is the only sign, but this should not be ignored.

Treatment for ED aims to address the underlying cause, whether this is an underlying condition, a side effect of medication, or where no actual reason is found.

Maintaining your sexual health is the same as for your general wellbeing, smoking cessation, alcohol in sensible limits, a good diet and regular exercise.

Most of all, if the problem persists, please do not bury your head in the sand.


Useful websites


Dr. Zak Uddin,  MRCGP (UK) General Practitioner

TWITTER - @AskDoctorZak



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