What Women Should Know About Diabetes and ED
Women whose male partners have diabetes may have researched the disease and its effects. Some have probably started buying healthier food and encouraging their mate to take up exercise. Many are probably versed in the side effects that diabetics feel. What they may not realize—and what their partner perhaps won't share—is that erectile dysfunction is tied to diabetes.
Yes, ED can be an unwelcome surprise, and many men are loathe to acknowledge it, much less discuss it, even with a loved one. While treatment for ED is widely available—wearable devices, penile prostheses and medications—the first steps may involve much simpler lifestyle and communication changes. And that's where a supportive partner can make a difference.
First, the 4-1-1. Diabetes, commonly called high blood sugar, is a serious health condition that affects more than 34 million people, or 10.5 percent of the U.S. population. Type 2 diabetes—when the body doesn't use insulin properly—is the most common form, according to the American Diabetes Association. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and irregular levels can lead to problems with the nervous, circulatory and immune systems, along with blindness and the less-discussed problem of erectile dysfunction (ED).
ED is the inability to get and maintain an erection, and it can stem from a host of physical and mental conditions, including low testosterone levels, nerve damage, blocked or constricted blood vessels, depression and more. All of these conditions are associated with diabetes, as well. About one-third of men with type 2 diabetes also experience ED.
Here are some ways to help you and your partner manage diabetes and any associated ED.
He needs to manage his weight
Let's face it, creating healthier eating habits can be a challenge, especially when you're living with someone, because a shift in diet for one partner often impacts the other. Dietary restrictions and guidelines are already a part of managing diabetes, but you can take it a step further and make healthy choices that will help him (and you if that's something you're looking to do) shed a few pounds. Cut out sweets and sugary drinks and limit fatty and fried foods. Substitute whole-grain options for white bread, pasta and rice.
He needs to exercise
Much like helping your partner manage his weight, encouraging him to increase his physical activity may be easier if the two of you do it together. A better diet and increased physical activity go hand in hand. Beyond promoting weight loss, exercise reduces stress and increases blood flow, both of which may help with ED. Suggest a walk, hike or bike ride that you can do together, which will make any activity seem less like a chore and more like quality time.
He needs to change unhealthy habits
An easy way to cut calories is to drink alcohol in moderation or eliminate it. Most alcohol is a large source of dietary sugar, so drinking isn't a good choice for people who are trying to manage their diabetes. Alcohol can also hurt a man's ability to achieve an erection.
If you or your partner smoke, make a pact to stop together. Tobacco narrows blood vessels, which can lead to ED. Supporting each other in kicking the habit makes it a team project and both of you will benefit.
He needs to check his medications
Your partner may be using oral medications to treat conditions such as high blood pressure and depression that often go hand in hand with diabetes and ED. Make a list of the medications and join your partner the next time he heads to the doctor, so you can discuss whether any medications might be behind his ED. This also may be the right time to encourage your partner to ask about oral medications that target ED directly.
He needs to communicate with doctors
Simply put, your partner's doctor can't treat what they don't know. Encourage your partner to bring up the subject of ED with his medical team, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation might seem. His doctor might also suggest tests or courses of therapy that both of you might have missed, such as checking his hormone levels to screen for low testosterone (also called low-T), which can sometimes lead to ED.
You can also suggest that your partner see a therapist or a counselor because people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from depression. And ED is not just a physical issue—mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression can also lead to the condition. A therapist might be able to help your partner get to the root of possible mental factors behind his sexual troubles.
He (and you) can watch for these signs
If your partner is experiencing ED, he might also have undiagnosed diabetes; or if he's reluctant about sex, he may be hiding ED that is related to undiagnosed or untreated diabetes. Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst or hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, blurry vision, frequent infections and numbness in the extremities, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Diabetes is a root cause of sexual dysfunction in both men and women, but it doesn't have to mean the end of your sex life. With open communication and support, you can encourage your partner to make lifestyle choices and seek the help he needs so you're both happy between the sheets again in no time.