Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common complication of diabetes – in fact, experts suggest that men with diabetes are three times more likely to suffer from ED¹. And yet, despite its prevalence, many don’t realise that the two conditions are linked, and they could be missing out on treatment to improve their wellbeing and sexual health.

How are ED and diabetes connected?

Diabetes is a chronic illness that is caused by the body’s inability to manage its blood sugar level. There are two types of diabetes:

  • type 1 diabetes – an autoimmune condition in the which the body attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin
  • type 2 diabetes – the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells are not able to effectively use the insulin produced

The NHS estimates that 90% of people living with the illness, have type 2 diabetes², which is linked to many of the same risk factors as ED. Things such as being overweight, a poor diet, excessive drinking, and stress are associated with both diabetes and erectile dysfunction.

Aside from the obvious similarities in risk factors, there is evidence to suggest that diabetes can actually cause erectile dysfunction. High blood sugar levels in men with diabetes can damage the nervous system and vessels, which are needed to get and maintain an erection.

Could there be a psychological cause?

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes or you’ve had it for some time, you may be suffering from low mood. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all contribute to erectile dysfunction, making an already difficult situation feel much worse.

Low testosterone is also a complication of diabetes – having type 2 diabetes and being overweight doubles your chances of having a low sex drive³. This added burden could lead to performance anxiety in the bedroom, which is a known cause of ED.

Erectile Problem

What are the risk factors of ED and diabetes?

You are more likely to suffer from diabetes and associated complications, like erectile dysfunction, if you are:

  • overweight
  • smoke heavily
  • drink too much alcohol
  • have a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt
  • suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression

If you don’t manage your blood sugar levels correctly, then the likelihood of you getting erectile dysfunction increases. High blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels can also put you at risk of complications from diabetes.

If you’re taking medication to treat depression or high blood pressure, check to make sure that erectile dysfunction isn’t listed as a side effect. If it is, then talk to your GP – they may be able to suggest an alternative treatment.

Can you reduce your chances of getting ED?

Experts suggest that half of all men with type 2 diabetes will develop erectile dysfunction within five to ten years of being diagnosed⁴, and those with heart disease are at an even greater risk. But by making the right lifestyle changes, you can improve your diabetic symptoms, and as a consequence your sexual health.

The first step to controlling your blood sugar levels starts with a good diet and an active lifestyle. You should eat a balanced diet, that includes lots of fruit and vegetables, while keeping sugar, fat, and salt to a minimum.

NHS England also recommends doing at least two and half hours of activity every week, such as fast walking, climbing stairs, strenuous housework or gardening.

This will help you maintain a healthy weight, which makes it easier to control your blood sugar levels and can improve your sex drive. A 2011 study found that obese men with type 2 diabetes who lost five per cent of their body weight, benefited from better erections and an increase in their sexual desire⁵.

Best ED treatment for diabetes

There are a range of treatment options for erectile dysfunction, and the most suitable one will depend on your circumstances. Most men with type 2 diabetes who are managing their blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, can take oral medications.

Erectile dysfunction drugs are safe for the majority of men, and they are not known to interfere with diabetes medication, such as Glucophage (metformin) or insulin. However, you should always check with your GP, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before you start any new treatment.

There are several products to choose from, which you can buy online or in-store:

Sildenafil 50mgSome of the drugs, like sildenafil, are also marketed under a brand name (such as Viagra), but they work in the same way, by increasing blood flow to the base of the penis.

It’s important to remember that for ED medication to work you must still be aroused, so if you are struggling with a reduced sex drive, speak to your GP about other treatment options. Your doctor might suggest counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy to deal with any underlying emotional issues that are contributing.

When to see your GP

If you are unable to get or maintain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse, and you are under the age of 45, it may be a sign you have diabetes. Speak to your GP, who will be able to check your urine, and arrange a blood test for signs of diabetes.

At the same time, they will be able to discuss erectile dysfunction treatment with you. Most men will experience ED at some point in their life, but with the right treatment you can look forward to enjoying a healthy sex life again.

Although all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it should not be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please speak to your doctor.

Authored Jul 14, 2021 by Joseph Issac, MPharm
Reviewed Aug 04, 2021 by Prabjeet Saundh, MPharm