Diabetes is a common risk factor for erectile dysfunction. 35 – 75% of men with diabetes will experience some level of erectile dysfunction some time during their lives. Men with diabetes often develop erectile dysfunction 10 – 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Also, 50 – 60% of men above 50 who have diabetes have a higher likelihood of having difficulties with an erection. For men over 70, there is a 95% likelihood of having some difficulty with having an erection. This article discusses what diabetes is (briefly) and how it affects erectile functioning.
The Basics of Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction
Diabetes is defined as a chronic illness in which individuals have high levels of sugar in their blood. There are two major types of diabetes: Type I and Type II. Type I can occur at any age but is usually thought to be a disease that begins in childhood. It’s often referred to as juvenile diabetes. The disease is a disorder of the immune system in which the cells in the pancreas (called beta cells) are being “attacked” by the body’s immune system and thereby not producing as much insulin as they would normally. Men with Type I Diabetes are likely well aware of the various complications that can arise as a result of this disease because they have been managing it for years. Type II Diabetes usually occurs in adulthood and results from poor diet and lack of exercise. The disease is more common in overweight and obese people, although it can also occur in older people who are of normal weight or underweight. In the past, this illness usually occurred in adults, but today, with an increasing number of obese children, this disease can also begin when people are younger. In most cases, the symptoms of this disease can decrease with health eating and exercise, but not always. The chronic nature of diabetes leads to long-term problems for the body, some of which
are important risk factors for erectile dysfunction.
Type II Diabetes Results from the Body’s Inability to use Insulin
Liver and muscle cells do not respond to the action of insulin. This
is called insulin resistance. Insulin normally helps liver, muscle and fat cells take up glucose. The glucose is stored in these tissue and eventually used when the body needs energy. When insulin resistance occurs, the body is not able to take up glucose well which results in glucose levels building up in the body. This can cause a condition called hyperglycemia if the diabetes is not treated well. As the glucose builds up in the body’s circulatory system (blood vessels) it can cause a number of problems.
Body Systems Affected by Diabetes
Diabetes can lead to nerve impairment that decreases erectile functioning. An erection is a complex process involving multiple systems of the body – circulatory, nervous, and muscular, and endocrine (hormones). The extra glucose in the circulatory system can affect the body’s nerves, which need blood supply to serve, and which also transport compounds in order for your nervous system to work. When glucose interferes with the nerve transport process it will decrease the ability of a man to respond to stimulation that would normally cause and erection.
Blood Vessels Can Also be Damaged by Diabetes
The damaging of blood vessels is the easiest to understand because most of the excess glucose from Diabetes in the blood vessels. Also, the swelling of the penis during an erection is clearly an increase in fluid in the erection. This fluid comes from blood vessels dilating or becoming larger in order to allow blood to rush into the flexible muscles of the penis. When these vessels are blocked by glucose less blood is able to flow into the penis. Therefore the penis will not become as erect as normal and eventually may not become erect at all.
Muscles are also affected by glucose. As just stated, muscles in the penis need blood to enter them in order to work. However, muscles also have blood vessels bringing them nutrients throughout the body. For example, your biceps muscles need blood supply (like all tissues of your body) in order for you to be able to move your hand and forearm up above your head. Also, muscles need a certain mixture of chemicals in order for function normally. Too much glucose impairs the functioning of muscles.
Prevention of Erectile Dysfunction for Men with Diabetes
Prevention is usually worth a pound of cure. In other words, the expensive treatment of diabetes and related erectile dysfunction is much more costly – financially, emotionally, etc. – than preventing the problem. For those who have Type I diabetes, the best prevention is keeping the disease under control by following a prescribed medical treatment, diet, and exercise regimen. For people at risk for Type II diabetes (mainly overweight men), exercise and eating fewer calories (especially sugar) are important ways to prevent the disease. You can find more information on prevention at the American Diabetes Association website.