Sildenafil, sold under the brand name Viagra among others, is a medication used to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension. It is unclear if it is effective for treating sexual dysfunction in women. It is taken by mouth or by injection into a vein. Onset is typically within 20 minutes and lasts for about 2 hours. Sildenafil acts by blocking phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5), an enzyme that promotes breakdown of cGMP, which regulates blood flow in the penis. It requires sexual arousal, however, to work. It also results in dilation of the blood vessels in the lungs.
Sildenafil (compound UK-92,480) was synthesized by a group of pharmaceutical chemists working at Pfizer's Sandwich, Kent, research facility in England. It was initially studied for use in hypertension and angina pectoris. The first clinical trials were conducted in Morriston Hospital in Swansea. Phase I clinical trials under the direction of Ian Osterloh suggested the drug had little effect on angina, but it could induce marked penile erections. Pfizer therefore decided to market it for erectile dysfunction, rather than for angina; this decision became an often-cited example of drug repositioning.
Care should be exercised by people who are also taking protease inhibitors for the treatment of HIV infection. Protease inhibitors inhibit the metabolism of sildenafil, effectively multiplying the plasma levels of sildenafil, increasing the incidence and severity of side effects. Those using protease inhibitors are recommended to limit their use of sildenafil to no more than one 25 mg dose every 48 hours. Other drugs that interfere with the metabolism of sildenafil include erythromycin and cimetidine, both of which can also lead to prolonged plasma half-life levels.
Sildenafil's popularity with young adults has increased over the years. Sildenafil's trade name, Viagra, is widely recognized in popular culture, and the drug's association with treating erectile dysfunction has led to its recreational use. The reasons behind such use include the belief that the drug increases libido, improves sexual performance, or permanently increases penis size. Studies on the effects of sildenafil when used recreationally are limited, but suggest it has little effect when used by those not suffering from erectile dysfunction. In one study, a 25 mg dose was shown to cause no significant change in erectile quality, but did reduce the postejaculatory refractory time.
Mechanism of Action
Sildenafil protects cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) from degradation by cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) in the corpus cavernosum. Nitric oxide (NO) in the corpus cavernosum of the penis binds to guanylate cyclase receptors, which results in increased levels of cGMP, leading to smooth muscle relaxation (vasodilation) of the intimal cushions of the helicine arteries. This smooth muscle relaxation leads to vasodilation and increased inflow of blood into the spongy tissue of the penis, causing an erection.
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