Better sex … but at what cost? Here’s the real story about impotence drug safety, and a glimpse at some new treatments for erectile dysfunction
Spicing up your sex life today is easier than ever before, thanks to impotence drugs like sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra), plus a couple of new ED drugs on the horizon. But news last year that the three popular impotence drugs were linked to a rare form of blindness has left millions of men scrambling for information.
How safe are ED drugs?
As of May 2005, 43 patients taking the three impotence drugs had developed a rare form of sudden blindness known as non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION). This condition is caused by the blockage of blood flow to the optic nerve. That summer, the Food & Drug Administration issued an alert about this potential problem, and approved new labeling for the three drugs. Should you be worried?
“Considering that more than 38 million men have taken these drugs, this incidence is low,” says Natan Bar-Chama, MD, associate professor and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The possible association may be due to the shared risk factors between ED and NAION–diabetes and high blood pressure–which the 43 men had.
“These medications are extremely effective and safe,” Dr. Bar-Chama says, “and people should not deprive themselves of these treatments when their sexual function is unsatisfactory.” Most side effects that do occur with these drugs are mild, ranging from headache to a stuffy nose.
Those who should stay away from these three impotance drugs are men who take nitrates to treat heart disease, because the combination can produce fatal heart complications.
More ED options in the future
A Boston company is developing a new drug currently known as SLx-2101. In men with ED, the muscles in the penis don’t relax properly, so blood can’t flow in to cause an erection. SLx-2101 inhibits an enzyme that causes smooth muscles to contract. Preliminary data, which was presented at the 2006 American Urological Association meeting in May, show that SLx-2101 acts fast, and one dose works for 48 hours.
Researchers at the meeting also presented the results of Phase I trials for another ED treatment, hMaxi-K, a type of gene therapy. When the gene is injected into the penis, it leads to the production of a protein that makes smooth muscles relax.
Drugs, though, aren’t always the solution to ED. Obesity and smoking are strongly linked to ED risk, researchers reported in the July Journal of Urology. Men can improve their sex lives when they stop smoking, exercise, and lose weight, Dr. Bar-Chama says.
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