Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a marker for undiagnosed diabetes, a new study finds. The presence of ED should prompt clinicians to screen for diabetes in men–especially middle-aged men–many of whom neglect to visit doctors’ offices for preventative care.

For the study, investigators led by Sean C. Skeldon, MD, of the University of Toronto in Canada, analyzed data from 4,519 men who responded to U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The men answered a single question on ED: “How would you describe your ability to get and keep an erection?” To reduce confounding, prostate cancer patients were excluded.

Given the association of ED with future cardiovascular disease (CVD), the researchers sought to identify the presence of CVD risk factors, including undiagnosed diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia in men with ED. Earlier identification and treatment of these conditions might prevent CVD and untimely death.

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According to results published in the Annals of Family Medicine, men with ED had more than twice the odds of undiagnosed diabetes. The association was strongest for men aged 40–59 years: 1 in 10 with ED had undiagnosed diabetes compared with 1 in 50 without ED. The findings “support previous studies suggesting that the prognostic value of erectile dysfunction for CVD is strongest in middle-aged men younger than 60,” according to the researchers. They found no associations of ED with undiagnosed hypertension or hypercholesterolemia.

In addition to diligently screening for diabetes, clinicians should also obtain sexual histories, the investigators suggested.


  1. Skeldon, SC; Detsky, AS; Goldenberg, SL; and Law, MR. Annals of Family Medicine, July/August 2015; doi: 10.1370/afm.1816.