Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/24/2021
Vardenafil — also known as Levitra® — is an FDA-approved medication that is used to treat erectile dysfunction. Along with Viagra®, Cialis® and Stendra®, vardenafil is one of the most popular ED drugs on the market today to help you get your mojo back.
Let’s explore everything there is to know about vardenafil, including how it works, the different dosages, side effects and how to get the best results.
Vardenafil is the active ingredient in Levitra. It’s available under a variety of different brand names and is used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).
Vardenafil comes in several dosages, from 5mg to 20mg, and the dose prescribed depends on the patient’s health condition, age and other factors.
For most patients, the starting dose of vardenafil is 10mg once per day.
It is recommended to take vardenafil 60 minutes before sex.
Vardenafil can be taken with or without food.Vardenafil lasts slightly longer than Viagra, but doesn’t provide multi-day effects like Cialis.
Vardenafil is a PDE5 inhibitor. It works by increasing blood flow to the penis during sex or sexual stimulation.
The medication widens and relaxes the blood vessels and helps men struggling with erectile dysfunction to maintain an erection.
The key to a rock hard erection is blood flow. An erection first begins with mental and physical stimulation. During arousal, nerves in the body begin to stimulate the penis, causing the muscles in the corpus cavernosa (two large chambers inside the penis) to relax. This allows blood to flow in and fill the chambers.
The trapped blood creates pressure, which helps the penis expand. A membrane surrounding the corpus cavernosa called the tunica albuginea traps the blood in the corpus cavernosa, sustaining the erection.
PDE5 is an enzyme that regulates the flow of blood to tissues throughout your body, including your penis.
As a PDE5 inhibitor, vardenafil works to improve the blood flow to your penis and make it easier to get and sustain an erection.
There are several brand names for vardenafil, including Levitra and Staxyn®.
Staxyn is a fast-dissolving form of Levitra that you put under your tongue. Before we get into the dosages, it’s important to note that Staxyn provides a higher systemic exposure compared with the film-coated formulation, Levitra.
For this reason, these two formulations are not equivalent milligram for milligram and therefore are not interchangeable.
A 5mg tablet is the lowest dose of vardenafil. Your healthcare provider will consider a starting dosage of 5mg if you're 65 or older. This is due to increased vardenafil concentrations in elderly men.
A 10mg tablet is the starting treatment dose of Levitra for most patients, and it can be taken up to once per day. If you are of average health and age, your healthcare provider may recommend starting you at this dosage.
A 10mg tablet is also the starting treatment dose for Staxyn. Unique to Staxyn, however, is the effect of water on the drug’s absorption.
When Staxyn is taken with water, the efficacy is decreased by 60 minutes and its potency is decreased 29 percent.
To maintain appropriate onset and maximum potency, patients should not take Staxyn with liquids.
If you don’t respond to the 10mg dose, your healthcare provider may increase your treatment dosage to 20mg. The maximum recommended dosage for Levitra is 20mg per day.
Like all erectile dysfunction medications, vardenafil does have some side effects. Common and temporary side effects of vardenafil include headaches, flushing, nasal congestion, indigestion and heartburn, nausea, dizziness, visual disturbances and reduced blood pressure.
More serious side effects of vardenafil are rare, but they can happen.
Priapism, for instance, is a prolonged erection that lasts longer than four hours. If you’re experiencing a prolonged or painful erection, this is considered a medical emergency and you should go to the ER.
Left untreated, priapism can cause damage to the blood vessels and erectile tissue in the penis.
Levitra (and other ED drugs) can also cause damage to the optic nerve. If you’re experiencing a loss of vision, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Levitra is linked to hearing loss as well. According to the FDA, cases of hearing loss have a “temporal association to the intake of PDE5 inhibitors.”
We’ve talked more about Levitra side effects in our Complete Guide to Levitra Side Effects.
If you’re ready to “get ur freak on” Missy Elliott-style, here’s what you need to know. Take vardenafil 60 minutes before sexual activity to make sure your erection will be ready when it’s go time.
Vardenafil has a half-life of four to five hours — and stays in the body for up to six hours — which means you can take your time and enjoy the ride.
Levitra can be taken with or without food, so don’t sweat about going out for a bite to eat before the big event.
Additionally, Levitra is safe to use with normal levels of alcohol. Studies have shown that there are no significant health effects when using the two together.
If Levitra isn’t your vibe, there are several other solid erectile drug treatments on the market today.
On average, it can take between 30 and 60 minutes to activate. For some men, however, it can take as little as 15 minutes or up to two hours to start working.
Avanafil (brand name Stendra) has one of the shortest half-lives of the common ED drugs, at three to five hours.
It remains active in the body for up to six hours after it’s been taken and has a similar period of effect as vardenafil.
If you’ve been dealing with erectile dysfunction, FDA-approved ED drug vardenafil might be a good option for you.
However, vardenafil, sold under the brand name Levitra, comes in several doses for different applications. It also has some side effects you should be aware of before you start using it.
As always, speak with your healthcare provider about vardenafil if you’re interested in learning whether or not it’s a good fit for you.