Are antihypertensives ruining your sex life?

By Alpana Mohta, MD, DNB, FEADV, FIADVL, IFAAD | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 10, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Beta-blockers, thiazides, loop diuretics, and spironolactone can negatively impact libido and potentially cause sexual dysfunction. 

  • These drugs decrease vascular smooth muscle relaxation, which is crucial for arousal and erection. However, the anticipation of sexual dysfunction from antihypertensives can also psychologically induce the issue in many patients.

  • Among beta-blockers, nebivolol stands out for its favorable outcome on sexual function.

About 25% of all erectile dysfunction (ED) cases are linked to medications. Of the 12 most commonly prescribed drugs in the US, eight list ED as a potential side effect.[] One such group of drugs is antihypertensives.

The burden of sexual dysfunction 

A review from Vascular Health and Risk Management notes that ED is twice as prevalent in hypertensive men as in those with normal blood pressure, affecting 30%–60% of them.[] 

On the other hand, female sexual dysfunction (FSD), affecting 20%–50% of women, is understudied and lacks effective treatments. Hypertension can impair clitoral and vaginal blood flow, leading to vasculogenic FSD.[]

While high blood pressure itself can lead to sexual dysfunction, antihypertensive medications also contribute to the problem. Hypertensive patients undergoing treatment often report worse sexual dysfunction compared to those not on medication. 

This issue extends beyond the physical symptoms, affecting treatment adherence and, by extension, the patients’ cardiovascular health. The culprit drugs include beta-blockers, thiazide diuretics, and loop diuretics.

Management with beta-blockers

Beta-blockers are essential for managing hypertension and reducing mortality post-myocardial infarction, but their influence on sexual health—especially with older nonselective beta-blockers like propranolol and beta-1 selective blockers—cannot be overlooked.

For instance, a study from Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine found that beta-blockers significantly impact ED, especially in patients with early-onset coronary artery disease (EOCAD).[] The study reported the following:

  • 57.8% of EOCAD patients on beta-blockers experienced ED vs 31.1% of controls.

  • Post-coronary revascularization, ED scores improved in patients not on beta-blockers but remained unchanged in those on them.

Similar effects are observed in females, report authors of a review in Medicina:[]

  • Research shows that 69.2% of women on beta-blockers experience sexual dysfunction, significantly higher than the 42.7% of those not on these medications.

  • In a study of postmenopausal hypertensive women, atenolol decreased libido, whereas valsartan increased it. 

  • In another report, felodipine-metoprolol was associated with lower sexual function scores, while felodipine-irbesartan showed improvements.

Beta-blockers reduce blood flow to the genitalia by lowering cardiac output, blood flow, and oxygen delivery, according to a review in Current Heart Failure Reports.[] They also disrupt neural control of sexual function through the inhibition of beta-adrenergic receptors on penile smooth muscle and nerves.

Furthermore, the sedative effects of this group of drugs reduce libido.


The Current Heart Failure Reports authors also discussed how diuretics like thiazides, spironolactone, and loop diuretics disrupt sexual function. These drugs can induce hypovolemia, cause electrolyte imbalances, and activate the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. By lowering testosterone production and elevating prolactin levels, these drugs can affect hormonal regulation of sexual function. 

Spironolactone is similar to beta-blockers in its vascular effects, and it can inhibit testosterone synthesis and enhance its conversion to estradiol, leading to issues like hyperkalemia, gynecomastia, impotence, and decreased libido in men.

However, the impact on women remains unclear. The Medicina authors stated that studies have failed to establish a link between diuretics and FSD.

The Hawthorne effect

There is another interesting aspect of this relationship that may be more psychological than physiological. A 2023 report attributes many cases of ED related to treatment with beta-blockers to the Hawthorne effect, suggesting that the mere anticipation of this side effect from beta-blocker therapy could psychologically induce ED.[] 

Researchers publishing in the journal Cardiology illustrated this phenomenon.[] In their study, men newly diagnosed with hypertension but without ED were started on metoprolol, but only some were told about the possibility of ED.

Those who were informed about the potential sexual side effects of the drug beforehand reported ED four times more often than those who were unaware of these side effects.

Clinical insights

History of pre-existing sexual dysfunction should be taken from every patient before starting any new treatment for cardiovascular diseases. Cardiologists should discuss potential side effects when prescribing medications and emphasize that not every patient experiences these effects. 

For patients complaining of sexual dysfunction, consider switching to antihypertensives less likely to impact sexual health. The Vascular Health and Risk Management authors suggest angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), and calcium channel blockers favorable medications for hypertensive patients who have sexual dysfunction. 

For example, valsartan has been linked to improvements in erectile dysfunction, orgasms, sexual desire, frequency of intercourse, and sexual satisfaction. The Medicina review found that ARBs improve endothelial function and vascular dilatation in the genitalia, decreasing female genital tissue fibrosis.

Among beta-blockers, nebivolol is preferred for hypertensive patients with sexual dysfunction because of its stimulation of endothelial nitric oxide release, which enhances blood flow and reduces oxidative stress in the genital tissue.

In men, PDE5 inhibitors like sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil (effective for both ED and pulmonary hypertension) have been found to improve cardiac function and pulmonary pressures.[] In women, apart from nebivolol, alpha-blockers and clonidine are viable options, per the Medicina review.

Thus, the management of hypertension with consideration for sexual function involves a careful selection of antihypertensive agents and patient education to minimize anxiety and psychological impacts. 

What this means for you

Many antihypertensives can have side effects that affect sexual desire, arousal, or performance, but patients may not always feel comfortable bringing up these concerns with their doctors. A careful selection of medication, together with a history of the patient’s sexual function and current symptoms, is vital. 

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