Viagra could help halt heart attacks and strokes, with some doctors saying it should be routinely prescribed. Italian scientists found drug improved health of men with certain conditions as the key ingredient Sildenafil relaxes blood vessels and prevents damage to heart cells and can drastically improve the functioning of men’s hearts.Men with heart failure who happened to be taking Viagra had far more efficient hearts than other patients. Scientists in Italy have found the drug has helped men with enlarged heart conditions and are calling for tests to be carried out on women.
The team from Sapienza University in Rome looked at 24 studies involving 1,622 men, and published the findings in the journal BMC Medicine. Lead researcher Andrea Isidori called for the drug to be tested on women with heart disease, and said that if the results of larger studies matched his findings, Viagra could be prescribed for heart conditions. He added: ‘We found that the main ingredient in Viagra can be used as an effective, safe treatment. Large clinical trials are now urgently needed to build on these encouraging findings.’ Dosages used for heart ailments are lower than those used for erectile dysfunction, and patients in the study showed few side effects.
“Surprisingly, in over 1600 treated subjects, no increased risk of visual disturbance, photosensitivity and ‘blue haze,’ was observed,” he told NBC News. The active ingredient in Viagra is sildenafil citrate, which is a phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor (PDE5i). The inhibitor blocks the enzyme PDE5, which prevents relaxation of smooth muscle tissue. Researchers analyzed randomized trials that had been published between January 2004 and May 2014, choosing 24 involving mixed populations of patients who were treated with PDE5i or a placebo.
PDE5i was given to men who had cardiovascular disorders, but who did not necessarily suffer from sexual impotence, according to Isidori. The study found that the inhibitor prevented the heart from changing shape in patients suffering from left ventricular hypertrophy, a condition that causes thickening and enlargement of the heart muscle. The drug also improved functioning of the heart in patients with a variety of cardiac conditions, with no effect on blood pressure. In fact, researchers found that the drug improved efficiency when the heart pumped blood into vessels, along with relaxation between beats.
“Very few drugs used in cardiology can actually affect these parameters. For this reason their implications in the treatment and prevention of heart failure are huge.” However, Isidori notes that because these studies were conducted exclusively on men, the next step should be a larger trial on women. “I am not surprised and it’s good news,” said Dr. Robert A. Kloner, professor of medicine in the cardiovascular division at the Keck School of Medicine at USC in California. “We can always use a new drug for heart failure.” Kloner co-authored the book, “Viagra: How the Miracle Drug Happened & What It Can Do for You.” He said this is not the first time, scientists have looked to Viagra for potential heart benefits.
In 1989, British scientists tested sildenafil citrate as a medication to treat high blood pressure and angina. By the 1990s in early trials of the drug, researchers noticed an interesting side effect — an increase in erections. In 1996, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer patented it as Viagra, and in just two years, doctors had ordered more than 40,000 prescriptions of the new wonder drug. “When the drug first came out there was a big scare — is this going to kill people?” said Dr. Robb D. Kociol, director of the heart failure program at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “But in all studies, to the best of my knowledge, it’s not shown any increase in cardiac events in patients who take these drugs,” he said.
Past studies have suggested Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors may have benefits for heart failure by decreasing pulmonary artery resistance and providing cardio-protective effects in settings with low blood flow, according to Kociol. “They also improve exercise tolerance in patients with heart failure,” he said. The drug may even reduce the size of a heart attack. But Kociol said scientists have to “temper” their enthusiasm as more studies are necessary. “As interesting as this paper is, there have been conflicting results,” he said. “If there is a silver bullet, it remains to be seen.” Kociol added that researchers also need to “pay more attention” differences between men and women and between racial groups. Some earlier research suggests that drugs like Viagra might interact differently with estrogen, which is known to have naturally protective properties for the heart. Still, using a sex drug for the heart may raise some eyebrows. “There is a certain titillation factor when you talk about Viagra — people chuckle,” said Kociol. And for that reason, today doctors prescribe sildenafil citrate for pulmonary arterial hypertension and Raynaud’s syndrome, but market the same drug by a different name — Revatio. Some doctors have suggested the drug be routinely prescribed to men suffering heart conditions. Some 180,000 men are prescribed Viagra and other anti-impotence pills, while many more buy them online. But after Viagra’s patent ran out recently, other drug firms were able to produce cheaper, non-branded versions. The NHS subsequently relaxed its rules, enabling it to be prescribed to any men with serious impotence. Previously, it was only given to those with impotence as a side-effect of illness or treatment such as chemotherapy. The price of generic drugs is now just £1.45 for four tablets, compared to four of Pfizer’s Viagra pills at £21.27.