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Is Viagra Safe for ED?

If you’ve ever looked into treatment options for erectile dysfunction (ED), you’ve almost certainly heard of Viagra®.

First launched in the late 1990s, Viagra is arguably the most well-known medication for treating ED. 

It contains the active ingredient sildenafil, a PDE5 inhibitor that improves blood flow to your penis and makes it easier to get and maintain an erection. 

For most people, Viagra is a safe and effective medication. However, as with other medications, it can potentially cause side effects and interactions that you should know about before taking it to treat ED.

Below, we’ve explained how Viagra works, as well as the side effects and interactions that it can cause.

We’ve also addressed a few of the most common safety myths about Viagra and other common ED medications

How Does Viagra Work?

Sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, belongs to a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, or PDE5 inhibitors. 

These medications work by inhibiting the effects of the PDE5 enzyme, which is responsible for contracting the blood vessels that supply blood to your penis.

When PDE5 is inhibited by sildenafil or similar ED medications, the arteries that supply blood to your penis relax, increasing the amount of blood that can flow to your penis and making it easier to get and maintain an erection.

Sildenafil is also used to treat other conditions, such as pulmonary arterial hypertension (a form of high blood pressure that affects the lungs).

Although Viagra makes it easier to get and maintain an erection during sex, it doesn’t have any effect on your sexual arousal or general level of interest in sex.

Is Viagra Safe to Use?

When it’s used as prescribed, Viagra is a safe medication. It was approved by the FDA in 1998, meaning it’s been on the market for more than 20 years. 

In this time, it’s been used by millions of men in the United States and many more worldwide.

Overall, Viagra’s safety record is very good. However, like almost every medication, it can cause certain side effects.

Common side effects of Viagra include:

  • Headaches
  • Flushing
  • Dyspepsia (indigestion)
  • Nasal congestion
  • Back and/or muscle pain
  • Dizziness
  • Skin rash
  • Blurred vision, increased sensitivity to light, or a colored tinge to vision

Of these side effects, headaches are the most common, affecting between 16 and 28 percent of men who used Viagra in clinical trials.

Viagra can also cause more serious side effects, including the following:

  • Ringing in the ears
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Sudden hearing decrease or loss of hearing
  • Erections that are painful or last for several hours
  • An itching or burning sensation during urination

These side effects are uncommon. If you experience any serious side effects after using Viagra, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider or seek medical assistance. 

Side effects such as fainting or long-lasting, painful erections can sound alarming. However, it’s important to put these side effects in context. 

Only a small percentage of men who use sildenafil experience any side effects, with an even smaller percentage experiencing serious ones. 

For example, priapism (painful and prolonged erections) is one of the most well-known sildenafil side effects, largely thanks to sensational media reporting.

Despite being so well known, priapism from sildenafil is extremely rare. In fact, just 74 cases of priapism involving sildenafil were recorded in the FDA’s adverse event reporting system for the entire year of 2007, despite millions of men using sildenafil on a regular basis.

Can Viagra Cause Drug Interactions?

Like other medications, Viagra has the potential to interact with other drugs. Some interactions that involve Viagra may be dangerous, particularly those involving other medications that affect blood flow and blood pressure. 

Sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, causes a mild drop in blood pressure. In a study from 2002, researchers found that a typical dose of sildenafil decreased systolic blood pressure by 6 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 4.5 mm Hg in a small group of men.

By itself, this small drop in blood pressure usually isn’t enough to cause health issues. However, when Viagra is combined with other medications that also reduce blood pressure, it can cause a sudden, significant drop in blood pressure that may be dangerous or life-threatening.

Cardiovascular medications that may interact with Viagra include nitrates (including recreational drugs that contain nitrates), alpha-blockers and other antihypertensive medications.

Viagra can also interact with medications that inhibit the CYP3A4 enzyme, such as itraconazole, ketoconazole and the antiretroviral medication ritonavir.

To avoid interactions, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider about all medications and recreational drugs you currently use or have recently used before using Viagra. (A healthcare professional can then help determine if Viagra is safe for you.)

This detailed guide to Viagra and nitrates offers more information on these drug interactions and their risks, as well as specific medications to avoid while using Viagra. 

Is Viagra Bad for Your Heart?

There’s a common misconception that Viagra and other ED medications have a negative effect on cardiovascular health, or that they can trigger myocardial infarction (heart attack) and other medical emergencies.

There’s currently no scientific evidence that shows that sildenafil, tadalafil (the active ingredient in Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) or avanafil (Stendra®) directly cause heart damage. 

This means that if you’re in good health and don’t suffer from any cardiovascular health issues, you can use these medications safely as directed by your healthcare provider.

However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, it’s best to exercise caution when it comes to ED medications.

Before using Viagra or similar medication, make sure to inform your healthcare provider about your condition. 

Let them know if you currently use or have previously used medication for any heart conditions, or if you’ve previously suffered a cardiovascular event. 

It’s important to keep in mind that sex itself is a mild form of exercise. In fact, a 2012 article in the journal Circulation notes that sex is comparable in physical exertion to climbing up several flights of stairs or walking briskly for a short period of time.

If you have a heart condition, the physical activity involved in sex may cause you to experience chest pain or other symptoms.

Make sure to inform your healthcare provider if you experience any concerning problems while having sex, or if you feel out of breath or unable to perform during sexual activity.

Can Viagra Damage Your Penis?

Another common misconception about Viagra is that it can damage your penis, or cause you to become dependent on medication to get an erection.

Contrary to popular belief, Viagra doesn’t have any significant impact on your sex drive or level of sexual stimulation. All it does is make it easier for blood to flow into your penis when you feel sexually aroused. 

In very rare cases, men who use Viagra may experience priapism — a type of persistent, painful erection that can last for several hours. This issue develops when blood becomes trapped in the penis.

Priapism is a serious issue that requires urgent medical attention. When untreated, it may cause damage to the penis. 

The good news is that priapism is extremely rare and affects only a tiny percentage of men who use Viagra or similar medications to treat ED. 

As for physical dependency, there’s no scientific evidence that Viagra is physically addictive, nor is there any evidence that Viagra can make ED or other forms of sexual dysfunction worse. 

How to Use Viagra Safely

Used as directed, Viagra can improve your sexual performance and provide relief from erectile dysfunction without any negative effects on your health. Apply these tips to safely get the best results from Viagra: 

  • Start with a low or moderate dosage. Viagra comes in several strengths, from 25mg to 100mg per tablet. If you’re concerned about side effects, consider starting with a low or moderate dosage of Viagra.

  • Take Viagra around one hour before sex. Viagra should be taken one hour before you plan to have sex. A single dose of Viagra will last for approximately four hours. You can take Viagra with or without food.

  • Never take Viagra more than once a day. Viagra is designed for use one time per day, and not more. If you need a longer-acting ED medication, consider talking to your healthcare provider about tadalafil (the active ingredient in Cialis).

  • Avoid drinking alcohol with Viagra. Using Viagra with alcohol can increase your risk of developing side effects. It’s best to limit your alcohol consumption or avoid drinking while using Viagra or other ED medications.

  • Avoid over-the-counter Viagra alternatives. Contrary to popular belief, these products aren’t safer than Viagra. Many contain unlabeled, illicit ingredients, including ingredients that are potentially harmful.

  • If Viagra doesn’t work, inform your healthcare provider. You may need to try several doses of Viagra to identify what works best for you. Make sure not to adjust your dose of Viagra without first talking to your healthcare provider.

Is Viagra Safe for You?

Viagra is one of the most well-known and effective treatments for erectile dysfunction. When it’s used as directed, it’s a safe medication that can produce real, noticeable improvements in your sexual function without any negative effects on your health or wellbeing. 

Like all prescription drugs, Viagra should be used responsibly. You can learn more about taking Viagra safely in this guide to common Viagra warnings and precautions

You can also purchase Viagra, generic sildenafil and other ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.