More than 50% of men with diabetes will experience erectile dysfunction (impotence) as a result of their condition. Men with diabetes are also more likely to experience impotence at a younger age. This is due to the effects diabetes can have on a person's blood vessels, nerves and muscle function, all of which need to be healthy in order for an erection to occur. Being overweight, smoking and not exercising enough can all contribute to erectile problems.

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How erections are affected by diabetes

Nerves

One of the main ways in which uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes can affect the body is nerve damage. During the erection process, nerves need to communicate psychological excitement to the rest of the body so that a man is able to get an erection that is strong enough for sexual intercourse.

How Diabetes Affects the Nerves

Damaged Nerves Diabetes

However, if nerves are unable to communicate like they are supposed to it can disrupt the erection process, preventing an erection from occurring like normal. So even if a man is aroused, disruption to the nerve impulses can still make it physically difficult to respond to sexual stimulus.

It's not fully understood how exactly uncontrolled blood sugar levels harm nerves, but it has been shown that it disrupts the nerve cells' ability to transmit signals properly. As a consequence of nerve damage, muscles can become weak and even painful.

Blood vessels

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, in particular the blood vessels in the kidneys and eyes. This is because high blood sugar can cause them to become thicker. However, other conditions that often occur alongside diabetes, particularly type 2, such as cardiovascular disease, can also cause damage to nerves. This is known as atherosclerosis and can cause blood vessels to become hard, meaning they are unable to perform effectively.

High Level of Glucose (Hyperglycemia)

High Blood Glucose Levels

Blood vessels in the penile area perform an extremely important role, and if circulation in the penile area is inhibited it can lead to impotence. In order for an erection to occur that is strong enough for sexual intercourse, blood needs to be able to enter the penile arteries to increase pressure. If this can't happen as normal, pressure won't be enough to make an erection sustainable.

Blood flow

Diabetes affects nitric oxide production, which is an important compound in the erection process. Nitric oxide is what signals the penile blood vessels to widen and allow more blood into the penile tissues. Reduced levels of nitric oxide can therefore influence erection strength.

Dealing with diabetes-induced impotence

Diabetes is a chronic condition, which means that it's important to control it as effectively as possible to limit the potential damage it can cause to the body. However, treating diabetes might not always provide a benefit for impotence, which is why a doctor may choose to prescribe a treatment such as Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.

Not all men with diabetes may be able to use these treatments, particularly if they have an existing heart condition for which you are taking medications. In these instances, vacuum devices and other forms of hormone therapy can be helpful.

Making lifestyle adjustments can also be helpful in making impotence less likely in diabetic men, such as avoiding excessive alcohol use, tobacco and becoming more active. Sometimes simply eliminating emotional factors can also be helpful.