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What is Viagra?

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Viagra (also known as sildenafil) is the first oral drug treatment that can prompt and enhance erections in men. The drug is taken as a tablet and produces erections only in response to sexual stimulation.

How does Viagra work?

Viagra promotes erections by relaxing the smooth muscle of the blood vessels thus increasing blood flow in the penis in response to sexual stimulation. It does this by specifically blocking a particular enzyme (protein that assists chemical reactions) called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE 5). This is the enzyme that normally breaks down chemicals causing the erectile response. Therefore, by blocking the breakdown of erectile chemicals, the drug promotes a harder and more prolonged erection. Viagra promotes penile erection only in response to sexual stimulation and has no effect in the absence of sexual stimulation. Therefore, if a healthy man took Viagra and occupied himself with usual daily activities, he would not be expected to develop an erection within the five or six hours in which the drug is active unless sexual stimulation took place.

 Side effects and cautions:

Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular diseases have common risk factors, therefore many of the patients who might benefit from Viagra also have cardiovascular diseases. Viagra must not be used by people who need to take nitrate medications and should be used with care by people who get angina (heart pain) on exercise. Viagra can adversely interact with some medications, including those used to treat HIV.

More common side effects that all people should be warned about are the possibility of headaches, indigestion due to acid regurgitation and very mild effects on vision. These visual changes make bright lights appear even brighter. Viagra is contraindicated (should never be used) in one very rare eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa.

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