Does Viagra Have Any Side Effects?

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Viagra is a medicine commonly prescribed for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, otherwise known as impotence. Erectile dysfunction is a common disorder in the UK, affecting 1 in 5 men and can affect any age – even young men. The impact erectile dysfunction can have on a man should not be taken lightly because it can have both physical and mental effects – and on his partner too.

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What are the causes of erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is the inability to start or sustain an erection that is satisfactory to perform sexual intercourse. It can be caused due to a number of reasons:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Vascular disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Parkinson disease
  • Side effects of some medicines such as anti-depressants and beta blockers
  • There are also lifestyle choices that can affect erectile function and make it worse such as over – consumption of alcohol, high fat diet, smoking and living in a stressful environment. Sometimes, making simple changes in your lifestyle such as stopping smoking and relaxing can have a positive effect on sexual performance.

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Treating erectile dysfunction

Probably the most well-known medicine used globally for the treatment of erectile dysfunction is Viagra, which is the brand name for Sildenafil. It has been proven to successfully work through clinical studies when compared to placebo and also has high prescribing rates.
Viagra works by blocking an enzyme which usually causes the blood vessels to narrow. Instead, the blood vessels are widened and this results in an increase of blood supply to the genitals and therefore helps with getting an erection. Viagra comes in strengths of 25mg, 50mg and 100mg tablets and a maximum of one tablet in 24 hours should be taken, preferably on an empty stomach. Effects of Viagra are usually seen within an hour provided that there is some sexual stimulation and its effect can last up to 5 hours.
Viagra has demonstrated its ability to work for many men all over the world. Since its launch in 1998 as the first treatment for erectile dysfunction until today, it has been a very popular choice of treatment by prescribers for treating impotence. On the 15th anniversary of the launch of Viagra in 2013, research was carried out and found that Viagra held 45% of the market share for the treatment of sexual dysfunction and that in 2012 there were 8 million prescriptions were written for Viagra in America.

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Does Viagra have any side effects?

Almost every medicine in the world will have some risk of side effects and Viagra is no exception. However, Viagra is generally well tolerated by most men who take it – hence one of the reasons for its global success.
Of course, anyone who takes a new medicine will ask if they will experience any side effects and as mentioned earlier, most medicines usually come with side effects. But it is important to note that everyone is different; where one person experiences side effects, another person might not do.
The most common side effects of Viagra include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Uncommon side effects of Viagra include (but not limited to):
  • Chest pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tachycardia (fast heart beat)
  • Fatigue
  • Rare side effects of Viagra include (but not limited to):
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Facial swelling
  • Rash
  • Priapism

Perhaps the most important side effect to be aware of is Priapism. This is where the penis remains erect for a long period of time and can be very painful. It is a serious side effect and classed as a medical emergency if it does not go within 4 hours and so you should seek medical advice immediately. If the painful erection does not go, it can lead to permanent damage to the penis. There is a very low risk of priapism occurring, however, in fact in the Journal of Sexual Medicine mentioned only about 8,700 men over a 4-year period nationwide experienced priapism.
There are ways to reduce the erection and risk of priapism which include having a warm bath or shower, drinking lots of water, going for a walk and trying to do exercise. Taking paracetamol can also help with pain relief.
People who are at a higher risk of priapism are those who suffer from sickle cell anaemia which is a genetic disorder affecting the red blood cells. Some medication can also increase the risk of priapism such as warfarin which is a blood thinner, some antidepressants and some medication for high blood pressure.

So always remember, call 999 or go to A & E if you have an erection which lasts more than 4 hours!

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Headaches are probably the most common side effect of taking Viagra, affecting at least 1 in 10 men who take the medicine. Experiencing a mild headache is not something to worry about – taking paracetamol should help to relieve the pain if needed and it will pass quickly. Feeling a little dizzy is not uncommon and it may be a good idea to sit down when taking the tablet. It usually is mild and most men do not experience this, however, if it is severe it is worth a visit to the doctor as the strength may be too high. Sometimes, taking too high a strength of Viagra can be a reason for experiencing side effects and so it is important to find the right strength for you – and everyone is different!
Other mild side effects some men can experience include facial flushing and an upset stomach but this is generally mild and often passes on its own quickly. Taking lower doses can help to relieve some of the side effects if they are more severe. This is why it is always a good idea to have a review and discuss with your doctor how you are getting on with your medication, checking that the strength is right for you.

Simple measures to reduce side effects
Some of the side effects can be controlled or prevented by taking some simple steps when taking the medication.

Headaches can be reduced by:
Keeping hydrated and drinking plenty of water. Being dehydrated can increase headaches and make it worse
Take paracetamol or Ibuprofen for pain relief if needed
Flushing of the face can be reduced by:
Applying cool cloths to the warm skin
Moving to a cooler room
Trying to relax
Upset stomach can be reduced by:
Try a remedy such as Gaviscon or Pepto-Bismol to relieve any indigestion or heartburn
Avoid eating spicy and high-fat meals
Avoid eating large meals and instead, have small, regular meals

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Overall, we can safely say that Viagra has a generally good side effect profile. Like all medication, side effects can occur but the most common side effects of Viagra can quite easily be controlled – if they don’t already go away on their own. In most cases, the side effects such as headaches and upset stomach will go fairly quickly and are not really something to worry about. Remember to use the simple measures to help resolve any of the mild side effects if needed, but more severe side effects should be referred to the doctor. Sometimes, a simple reduction in dose is all you need to overcome the more severe side effects!
It is also important to remember to watch out for the signs of priapism which is a long-lasting, painful erection as this can be classed as a medical emergency. If the erection does not go within 4 hours, ring 999 or go to A&E since the permanent damage of the penis can occur if not treated quickly.

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References:

  1. BNF.org (Viagra/Sildenafil)
  2. www.NHS.org.uk /conditions/priapism
  3. www.livestrong.com (Reduce side effects of Viagra article)
  4. www.beta.nhs.uk (Sildenafil)

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