Erectile dysfunction caused by diabetes

Diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction, but thankfully there are methods to remedy it.

Men with diabetes have an increased risk for erectile dysfunction (ED).1­ It is thought that men who have diabetes develop erectile dysfunction between 10 and 15 years earlier than men who do not suffer from diabetes, regardless of insulin dependency status­.

How does diabetes cause erectile dysfunction?

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 an 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 erection2.

The usual suspects

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 sclerosis3.

Unfortunately, erectile dysfunction can also be a side effect of some common medications. For example, medication used to treat high blood pressure and depression. Always ask your doctor if the medications you are on might be worsening your erectile problems. Making a change to your medications might help4.

Even when the underlying cause of erectile dysfunction is physical, such as diabetes, psychological factors, like anxiety, can play an important secondary role. A man who has had some erectile difficulty may start to anticipate and fear sexual failure3.

What to do about it?

Although you may feel uncomfortable at first, it is important to speak to your healthcare professional as soon as possible. They can then determine the exact cause of your erectile dysfunction and work out a treatment plan accordingly.

Treatment plans may include:

  • Maintain good glycaemic control


Erectile dysfunction stems from damage to nerves and blood vessels 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 better overall and improve your quality of life. 

  • Say no to bad habits


Try to limit habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol. Tobacco use, including smoking, can narrow your blood vessels which can lead to or worsen erectile dysfunction3.

Excess alcohol can also contribute to erectile dysfunction so if you do drink, choose to do so in moderation3. Try to limit your daily intake of alcohol to one drink a day for men older than 65, and up to two drinks a day for men aged 65 and younger4.

Follow a healthy, balanced eating plan and try to engage in regular exercise to help you lose weight, reduce stress and increase blood flow4.

  • 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 have.

  • Seek counselling


Anxiety and stress can make erectile dysfunction worse. This could lead to having a negative impact on your intimate partner. Remember that in addition to the number of oral medications and injections that are available to treat erectile dysfunction, a psychologist, counsellor or other mental health specialist can also be of great benefit to help you and your partner find ways to cope with this condition.

Most importantly, always speak to your healthcare professional to find the right treatment plan for you that still enables optimal diabetes therapy.


  1. Awad H, Et al. Erectile function in men with diabetes type 2: correlation with glycemic control. International Journal of Impotence Research (2010) 22, 36-39
  2. WebMD. (2017) Erectile dysfunction and diabetes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 February 2018].
  3. Health24. (Updated 2017) Erectile dysfunction Condition Centre. Causes of and Treatment of Erectile dysfunction. [online] Available at: https://ww [Accessed 13 February 2018]. Reviewed by Dr Dave Bowden MBBCh (Wits), FCS (SA) Urol. Specialist Urologist in private practice, Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Cape Town. (February 2015)
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2018) Erectile dysfunction and diabetes: Take Control Today. [online] Available at: erectile-dysfunction/in-depth/erectile-dysfunction/art-20043927 [Accessed 14 February 2018].