Now, pop a Viagra to pep up the heart | health and fitness | Hindustan Times
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Now, pop a Viagra to pep up the heart

The drug known for its use in erectile dysfunction also benefits the heart, finds Insiya Amir.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 20, 2007 17:23 IST

A study published in the March issue of the journal Chest finds that Viagra helps patients with idiopathic pul monary fibrosis. This disease is incurable and is characterised by progressive scarring in the lungs, which often leads to a lung transplant. More than half of the patients with this disease who were treated with Viagra, known medically as Sildenafil, improved their walking distance by at least 20 per cent during a standard test to measure lung function.

“Over five million worldwide suffer from this disease, so we are hopeful that this drug may prove an effective therapy for pulmonary fibrosis,” the study’s principal investigator, Dr. David A. Zisman, medical director of UCLA’s Interstitial Lung Disease Program and assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in the study.

Viagra is also being used to treat pulmonary hypertension — high blood pressure in the arteries that supply the lungs. When pressure builds up, the heart works harder and patients become tired, dizzy and short of breath.

Dr Jamshed Dalal, consultant cardiologist at Hinduja, Breach Candy, and Lilavati hospital, says: “The use of Viagra in treating pulmonary hypertension has been clearly established the world over.”

This is not altogether surprising given that Viagra was originally designed to lower blood pressure and treat angina. It has been reported by the BBC that it was during early testing that its developers noticed the drug aided the male erection — a curious and very lucrative side effect. Pfizer therefore decided to market it for erectile dysfunction, rather than as a heart drug, and after more safety tests Viagra was finally licensed as an impotence treatment in 1998.

Years later Viagra is turning full circle and doctors are re-exploring its use for treating circulatory problems involving the heart and lungs. The drug does not directly give a man an erection. It works by boosting blood flow to the penis.

This action means the drug is also good at improving blood flow elsewhere in the body. The Times of London has reported that military researchers are considering a study to see whether Viagra could help soldiers function better at high altitudes like the mountains of Afghanistan.

Good news? Yes, and no. Yes because though there is hope for patients, it can take a while before they can benefit from it. “Even if these researches are published in journals, it takes a long time for these drugs to be put to other uses. Legally, if these are not listed under the registered uses of the drug, a doctor should not prescribe them,” says Homi Bhabha of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers.

According to him, though these researches are published in journals, they cannot be prescribed on just that basis.

Pfizer, which manufactures the drug in India, says that: “Viagra is a prescription drug and the company promotes the drug to doctors only for erectile dysfunction”. There are concerns about safety of the drug for men with heart disease. Doctors are told not to prescribe Viagra along with angina drugs called nitrates as the mix could lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

As erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular diseases have common risk factors — age, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, genetic factors, physical inactivity, depression, and stress — many patients who might benefit from Viagra also happen to have cardiovascular diseases.

E-mil author: insiya.amir@hindustantimes.com