Long term diabetes can cause serious damage to organs and other systems in the body including blood vessels and the nervous system. When excess sugar in the blood damages nerves, the condition is known as diabetic neuropathy.
If this condition affects the nerves and blood vessels involved in sexual function in men, it can cause erectile dysfunction (ED) and other sexual difficulties.
There are two basic types of nerves in the body. Some nerves, like the ones that connect your hands or feet to your brain, are under your conscious control. If you want to make a fist, your brain sends signals through the nerves to the muscles in your hand to make your fingers close.
Other nerves, like the ones that control your heart beat or digestive functions, are not under your control. These functions keep happening without deliberate thought on your part. Nerves that control internal organs without your conscious effort are known as autonomic nerves.
The nerves involved in sexual function are autonomic nerves like the nerves in your heart -- you do not have control of them. When stimulated, these nerves trigger extra blood to flow to the genitals and cause smooth muscle tissue to relax, which leads to arousal.
In men, if the nerves or blood vessels in the penis become damaged, ED may result. Erectile dysfunction is defined as a consistent inability to achieve or sustain an erection firm enough for intercourse.
ED is a common problem for men as they age. But men with diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop ED than men without diabetes. And among men with erectile dysfunction, men with diabetes may develop the problem 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes.
Half of all men with diabetes will experience ED within 10 years of their diagnosis.
Research has also shown that early development of ED may be a warning sign of diabetes. Men who develop erectile dysfunction before the age of 45 should be tested for diabetes if they have not already been diagnosed with the condition.