What happens if women take Viagra?

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Viagra, the famous little blue pill, is a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction. However, what would hypothetically happen if a person without a penis took this drug?

First of all, Viagra is not indicated or approved for use in women by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the United States, Viagra is only available with a prescription, and FDA approval of the drug is limited to use under the supervision of a licensed healthcare practitioner. In the UK, one form of Viagra is available without a prescription for men over 18, but the pharmacist should ask a few private questions before handing over the drug. In other words, don’t try this at home – never take Viagra unless you meet the recommended criteria and have medical professional approval. Seriously.

With that in mind, let’s explore.

Sildenafil is the active ingredient found in drugs commonly sold under the name Viagra. Sildenafil was initially discovered by scientists at Pfizer as they researched a treatment for heart-related chest pain in the 1980s. The idea was that the drug would block the action of an enzyme called PDE5. By preventing PDE5 from working, sildenafil causes the blood vessels to relax, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure.

However, a curious side effect of the drug became apparent – it gave guys erections. There are many types of PDE, but PDE5 – the one that sildenafil acts on – is highly expressed in the bodily erectile tissue of the penis. This means that the drug is particularly effective in increasing blood flow to the penis, resulting in an erection. Since erectile dysfunction is so common in people of all ages, there was a clear market for an oral pill that safely resulted in erections, and the drug was approved for medical use to treat male impotence by the United States and the European Union in 1998.

Although Viagra is not approved for general use in women by the FDA, a number of scientific studies have explored the effects of its active ingredient, sildenafil, on women.

PDE5 inhibitors, such as sildenafil, are known to also cause an increase blood flow to the vagina and clitoris, resulting in a clitoral erection. This is because PDE5 is also expressed in the smooth muscles of the vagina, clitoris and labia, as well as the bodily erectile tissue of the penis. One lead of interest examined whether this could help women with low sexual libido. A little study in 2008 have found that sildenafil can help women who have trouble feeling sexually aroused by taking antidepressants.

Wider proof that it can benefit women with low libido is inconsistent and missing. As an example, a larger randomized clinical trial in 2002 examined whether sildenafil could help women with female sexual arousal disorder, but it had no significant impact.

In addition to this lack of evidence, the drug can cause unwanted side effects, such as headache, hot flashes, dizziness, nausea, a stuffy nose, and visual disturbances. In addition, there is a lack of data on the safety of the drug for women, since the drug is used extensively by men. This means that, in this scenario, to treat erectile dysfunction, the drug has probably only been tested on men and the real impact the drug could have on women, especially in the long term, is surrounded by uncertainty.

However, there is a real need to better understand the effects of sildenafil on women given the potential benefits the drug could have for other conditions. A study from the start of the year found that Viagra can significantly reduce the risk of another heart attack and increase the lifespan of men already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Recently, another promising study even hinted that it might help stave off Alzheimer’s disease.

You may have come across articles about “Female Viagra”, but this is a bit misleading. Discussions around ‘Female Viagra’ usually refer to drugs called flibanserin, which come in the form of little pink pills sold under the brand name Addyi, or bremelanotide, sold under the brand name Vyleesi. Both drugs have been approved by the FDA in recent years to treat “acquired generalized hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” primarily a lack of libido, in premenopausal women.

However, there is a significant amount of controversy surrounding these drugs. Unlike Viagra, which triggers a purely physiological reaction, these two drugs work on brain chemistry associated with mood and thought (flibanserin was originally developed as an antidepressant). Their effectiveness is unclear as the results are mixed and they are associated with unwanted side effects. The lack of directly comparable drugs for women, with proven results and easy access, has sparked a discussion of how female sexuality is treated in science, as well as the medicalization of low libido.

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