Jan 05

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Viagra, the popular anti-impotence drug, may stop working for many patients after 2 years, the results of a study suggest.

Dr. Rizk El-Galley of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and colleagues interviewed 151 men who had filled prescriptions for Viagra. Overall, 74% reported that 25 milligrams (mg) to 100 mg of the drug enabled them to initiate and maintain erections sufficient for intercourse.

The improvement rate ranged from 50% for patients with impotence caused by diabetes, to 78% for those with no specified reason for impotence, to 100% for those with suspected leakage in their veins.

3 years later, the investigators re-interviewed 82 of the men, of whom 43 were still using the drug. Sixteen of those 43 (37%) said they had needed to increase the dose by 50 mg to achieve an adequate erection. It had taken between 1 and 18 months for the treatment to lose its effects. There was no correlation between the need to increase the dose and frequency of use.

‘In general, 81% of patients who were still receiving treatment were satisfied, and 92% were able to achieve and maintain erections sufficient for sexual intercourse in more than 50% of attempts,’ El-Galley and colleagues wrote in The Journal of Urology.

Of the 39 patients who had stopped taking Viagra, 28 had initially reported a good response. Fourteen of those patients who stopped said the drug no longer worked, and six said they had regained the ability to have spontaneous erections.

There is notable disappointment about the fading powers of the ‘blue miracle pill’ in the professional world. ‘According to my observations, Viagra only helps half of all patients with erectile dysfunction caused by physical factors’, P. Derahshani, head of the urology department of the Kölner Klinik am Ring (Cologne, BRD) reports. A potential health-risk lies in the fact that for patients showing habituation effects, the dose can only be rised by the ones who have previously used 25 or 50mg, while for doses above 100mg, the risk of side effects such as circulatory weakness, nausea or headaches increases remarkably.

No substitute for psychotherapy or sex therapy

“One should not forget that Viagra is only indicated for erectile dysfunction for those men whose potency problems have physical causes,” the Viennese urologist Werner Reiter of the impotence clinic at the Vienna General Hospital said in an interview with the “Süddeutsche” (SZ). Especially in older men who smoke a lot and suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease, Viagra often loses its effect after prolonged dosing. In men with stable health, on the other hand, there is rarely a (physiological) habituation effect.
“If the impotence is caused by mental factors, Viagra will just cover up the first symptoms for a while,” warns Reiter. For long term success, these patients could only be helped with psychotherapy or sex therapy.

Health risks often underestimated

Fatally, many men ignore or underestimate the risk of self-medication. But an alarming number of 40 percent of the men who visit a doctor because of erection problems, suffer from arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries (which may, but is not always the cause of erectile dysfunction). Impotence ‘may nevertheless be a sign of a disease or an incipient disease. However, to simply cover up symptoms and to look away from the real causes, has never worked out on the long run, neither in medicine nor in psychotherapy,” says sex therapist Karl F. Stifter. It is important to keep the whole person in mind, which in this case would mean to check for physiological causes of the erectile dysfunction before considering any medication.

Underestimated by many men is the risk of suffering a heart attack. Like most drugs that interfere with the blood circulation of the body, Viagra & Co. involve special risks for patients (sometimes unknowingly!) suffering from heart conditions. In particular, patients who are taking nitroglycerin or blood pressure lowering drugs, which also relax the smooth muscles, may not take the pills to avoid potentializing their effects. Together with medications containing nitrate (eg for angina pectoris), the drug may lead to a fatal drop in blood pressure and heart diseases in men with circulatory failure. An examination by a physician is therefore absolutely necessarily before taking them.

In fact, no other medications are responsible for as many deaths due to negligent use as the new “erection helpers”. Worldwide, 616 deaths after taking Viagra were reported during the first 3 years after its introduction alone. The easy availability of the tablets over the Internet or on the black market poses a big problem, because they are extremely inviting for self-medication, and there is a relatively high risk to purchase harmful imitations. The ‘copycat’ market of the tablets, mainly India and China, is hard to control, with all the associated risks for the end user. Often enough the tablets are also not only taken at a far too young age, but also abused as kind of a ‘lifestyle drug’, completely ignoring the impact on the cardiovascular system – and probably also the production of our endogenuous ‘drugs’ that help to build and maintain an erection, as the study mentioned above could indicate.

So there is reason to expect a massive increase of the number of ‘Viagra Veterans’ during the next years who suffer from what I’d call ‘multisystemic erectile dysfunction’: psychogenic erectile dysfunction by men who furtheron developed organically caused erectile dysfunction either from resistance against the drug or by underproduction of endogenous drugs from longterm use of the supplementary drugs). These men may well find themselves suck in a dead end once they reach an age (or have to deal with side effects of physical illnesses) involving a natural decrease of the erectile function without many remaining options to treat their impotence.
It has been proved that in the vast majority of men under the age of 50, erection problems are caused psychologically – but even (and especially) at a higher age, a medical examination is necessary before starting to take medication. If there is no clear evidence for a physical cause, in the interest of one’s health (and perhaps also to keep the “Viagra trump card” for more difficult times), it is recommended to seek counsel from a sex therapist or psychotherapist rather than to reflexively grab one of the readily available “blue pills”.

(Sources: Reuters.com; Rizk El-Galley et.al., “Long-Term Efficiacy of Sildenafil and Tachyphylaxis Effect” in: The Journal of Urology – September 2001 (Vol. 166, Issue 3, Pages 927-931); Image source: creakyeasel.com)

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06.01.16