We’re getting ready to launch Sweet Life Talks: monthly talks about diabetes-related issues. When we asked our Diabetic South Africans what topics they most wanted to discuss, a number of men said they wanted to know more about erectile dysfunction (ED) and why men with diabetes are at greater risk. We found this excellent booklet from Accu-Chek called Man Talk and thought we would share some of the highlights. You’re not alone in this.
Did you know? Men who have diabetes are thought to develop erectile dysfunction between 10 and 15 years earlier than men who don’t have diabetes, whether or not they use insulin.
Why does erectile dysfunction affect men with diabetes?
To get an erection, men need healthy blood vessels, nerves, male hormones, and a desire to be sexually stimulated. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erection. Therefore, even if you have normal amounts of male hormones and you have the desire to have sex, you still may not be able to achieve a firm erection.
Common causes of erectile dysfunction
The most common cause of erectile dysfunction is damage to arteries, smooth muscles and fibrous tissues which can in turn be caused by diabetes, kidney disease and multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately, erectile dysfunction can also be a side effect of some common medications, like those used for high blood pressure and depression. Always ask your doctor if you’re taking any medications that might be worsening your erectile problems as making a change to your medications might help.
Even when there’s a physical cause for erectile dysfunction (like diabetes), psychological factors like anxiety can make things worse. A man could fear sexual failure because it’s happened before.
What to do about erectile dysfunction
Treating and managing erectile dysfunction is possible. Although it can be hard to talk about, it’s important to speak to your doctor or health care professional as soon as you experience any symptoms. They can figure out the exact cause of your erectile dysfunction and work out a treatment plan. Managing erectile dysfunction can include the following advice:
Maintain good blood sugar levels
Erectile dysfunction stems from damage to nerves and blood vessels. This is caused by poor long-term blood sugar control. Improving your blood sugar levels can help prevent nerve and blood vessel damage that can lead to erectile dysfunction. You will also feel much better!
Say no to bad habits
Try to limit habits such as smoking, and drinking alcohol. Smoking can narrow your blood vessels which can make erectile dysfunction worse. Excess alcohol can also make ED worse, so don’t drink much alcohol – have one drink a day for men older than 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Make healthy choices
Ask about other health problems
It’s common for men with diabetes to have other chronic conditions that can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. Work with your doctor to make sure you are taking care of all health problems you may be dealing with.
Ask for help
If you’re feeling anxious about erectile dysfunction, a psychologist, counsellor or other mental health specialist can be a big help for you and your partner.
Most importantly, speak to your doctor to find the right treatment plan for you that still allows for good diabetes control.
Download the Man Talk booklet here.