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Diabetes Knowledge

What you need to know about erectile dysfunction and diabetes

3/4/2019 by Scott Johnson

What you need to know about erectile dysfunction and diabetes

The mySugr team, collectively, has been living with diabetes for a long time. Hundreds of years. That small fact is a driving force in all we do. We live it. We get it. We get YOU.

As such, we aren’t afraid to tackle tough subjects around life with diabetes because they are also important to us. This post is no different.

Seeing as we are all rebounding from this frothy, pink, heart-filled season of chocolate-covered love known as Valentine’s Day, it seems appropriate to chat about love and sex. And we’re doing it in a multi-part series.(this one for men, another for women, and one on dating with diabetes)

Fun fact: SEX IS GOOD for diabetes! It can be good for your heart and blood flow, usually boosts your mood and even helps you sleep better.

HOWEVER, diabetes can sometimes be BAD for your sex-life. Or rather, it can interfere with the MECHANICS of getting it on. With that in mind, today we’re tackling erectile dysfunction.

If you think this topic doesn't apply to you ladies, don't worry. We also covered sexual dysfunction in women.

Believe it or not, erectile dysfunction (or ED as is often more comfortably known) can quickly pop up when you least expect it. (sorry – that was a terrible joke…)

It’s known to impact a minimum of 1 out of every 5 men and that number starts to increase with factors like age, and overall health. So even if your pocket-rocket is flying high now, it’s always good to ‘bone-up’ on the basics – the longer diabetes remains at play, the better the odds that ED can occur. And if you're currently dealing with ED, you are definitely not alone. This is very common, even without diabetes.

At its core, ED is defined as a consistent and repetitive problem obtaining and/or sustaining a functioning erection. As simplistic as that definition is, there are a number of reasons this particular challenge can occur. Simple issues like diet, medication side-effects, and lifestyle issues can all play a part in sexual health.

Once you have discovered the culprit, most of those situations can be easily fixed. But what can you do when none of the go-to lifestyle shifts are the culprit? It can feel embarrassing to talk to your doctor but it’s a path worth trotting if you wish you get the spring back in your step sooner rather than later.

Here are two basic pieces of information to help springboard a conversation with your medical team:

  1. Diabetes affects blood vessels. This has been proven time and again. We KNOW that living with diabetes can place a strain on the blood vessels in the body leading to hypertension, neuropathy, retinopathy, and more. We also KNOW that elevated and uncontrolled blood sugars can hasten these struggles, amplifying the need for optimal health and blood sugar stability.
  2. Your Penis Contains Two LARGE Blood Vessels. A properly popped-tent occurs when the two chambers known as Corpora Cavernosa are filled with blood. When successful, the additional blood causes the penis to reach for high noon. This process can be triggered by messages from the brain or by the nerves around the penis itself, therefore any illness in the body that affects blood vessels can impact your penis.

Armed with those two facts, it’s easy to see how your blood glucose levels can lower the heat on your meat thermometer. Men who have diabetes are 3-TIMES more likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction than those without diabetes. Moreover, the onset of symptoms can begin a solid 15 years SOONER than our non-pancreatically-challenged counterparts. Yikes.

But FEAR NOT my virile diabetes warriors. As much as the risk for ED is higher, evidence has shown again and again that good blood sugar control can MINIMIZE this risk. Furthermore, sustained corrective action with the blood sugar levels can have you back in action again in no time. But first things first.

You NEED to see your doctor.

ED can be an indicator of cardiovascular disease. A quick physical exam can address any comorbidities like circulation or nerve trouble. A few labs can check blood levels like testosterone, cholesterol, and liver function; all of which can contribute to ED as well. Beyond those basics, your doctor can discuss lifestyle changes that can improve sexual function like giving up smoking and/or exercising to help improve blood flow. If your doctor thinks medication side-effects can be contributing, a simple change in prescriptions might have you back in the saddle in a jiffy.

Beyond the necessary steps of prevention, there are medications and treatments available to help reduce the symptoms of ED. There is an entire CLASS of drugs that boost blood flow to the penis during times of arousal. They are powerful and can work quickly, so chat up your doctor to find the right solution for you. BEWARE the temptation to try DIY fad supplementation though. Many will claim to treat ED, but even the FDA warns about the dangers of unlabeled ingredients and, again we state, ED can be an indicator of OTHER health concerns. Using OTC or OT-‘net’ supplements could actually complicate any underlying conditions.

As awkward as the topic of erectile dysfunction may feel at first, the important take away from all this is simple. Like any other part of your health, your sexual health is important and can thrive even with diabetes at play in your life. Work closely with your medical team (they are used to questions about this) and do your best to manage your blood sugars. And focusing on full body health is a great way to keep yourself heading in the right direction.

Scott Johnson

Almost famous for his addiction to Diet Coke, Scott has lived well with diabetes for almost forty years and is currently the Patient Engagement Manager, USA for mySugr. He's been an active pioneer in the diabetes social media space for more than fifteen years and manages his award-winning blog, when time allows.

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