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Viagra: Pleasing Women In A Whole New Way

July 23, 2008

Researchers found the popular anti-impotence pill, Viagra, may help some women on antidepressants have better sex.

The report, published in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association, studied 98 premenopausal women who found Viagra helped with orgasm. Viagra’s benefits did not extend to other areas of sexual health including desire.

“For women on antidepressants with orgasm problems, this may provide some wonderful relief,” said psychologist Stanley Althof, director of the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida in West Palm Beach, who was not involved in the study. “But it will not improve their desire or arousal.”

They found women on antidepressants who took Viagra had fewer sexual side effects than those who took a placebo. Sexual dysfunction can encourage many people to stop taking drugs to treat depression

Some believe antidepressants lower sexual drive and performance even as the drugs help lift crippling depression. Sometimes a solution is as easy as switching drugs or reducing the dose.

Earlier studies have found, more than half the people who take antidepressants develop sexual problems. Those especially affected were taking Prozac, Paxil, Celexa and other drugs that work by increasing the chemical serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is thought to slow down orgasm by diminishing the release of another brain chemical, dopamine. However, doctors say Viagra increases blood flow to sexual organs.

Dr. H. George Nurnberg of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque wrote, by treating this bothersome treatment-associated adverse effect … patients can remain antidepressant-adherent, reduce the current high rates of premature medication discontinuation, and improve depression disease management outcomes.”

Pfizer Inc. spokeswoman Sally Beatty said despite the research findings, the company currently has no plans to pursue FDA approval for using its drug Viagra as a treatment for female sexual dysfunction.

Beatty said the company ended its internal research on Viagra for women in 2004. While Viagra was found to be safe, the results were inconclusive.

Women have long been looked over for a Viagra equivalent. The Food and Drug Administration sent back a testosterone patch for additional study. The FDA has granted approval to a handheld vacuum device that increases blood flow to the clitoris, and BioSante Pharmaceuticals Inc. (BPAX) is testing a testosterone gel called LibiGel.

The new Viagra findings are based on an eight-week experiment. The 98 women were using antidepressants successfully but were having sexual problems. Their average age was 37. During the study, the women attempted sexual activity at least once each week. Each time, they took a pill, not knowing whether it was Viagra or a matching dummy pill.

Nearly three-fourths of the women taking the Viagra pill reported improvement on an overall scale, compared to only 27 percent of the women taking the placebo.

The research was funded by Pfizer Inc, known generically as tadalafil, and Levitra or vardenafil, sold by GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer AG and Schering-Plough, work in a similar way to Viagra.

Althof said it’s “worrisome” that 43 percent of the women on Viagra experienced headaches, compared to 27 percent of the women on dummy pills.

Other side effects included indigestion and reddening of skin (flushing) according to women taking Viagra.

Psychologist Leonore Tiefer of New York University School of Medicine said industry-funded research has oversimplified women’s sexual experience. She noted the new study, funded by a Pfizer grant, found more side effects than benefits.

“Where’s the question to the women: Is it worth it?” Tiefer said.

Nurnberg said, an earlier study in men taking antidepressants found more pronounced sexual benefits with Viagra than the benefits found for women. He said, but the message for men and women who need antidepressants is that Viagra may help them stay on the drugs and beat depression.

“We’re not talking about a lifestyle issue. We’re talking about a medical necessity issue,” Nurnberg said.

Pfizer had no influence on the design, findings or manuscript, Nurnberg said. He and several of the other authors disclosed financial ties to Pfizer and other drug makers.

“These findings are important not only because women experience major depressive disorder at nearly double the rate of men and because they experience greater resulting sexual dysfunction than men, but also because it establishes that (drugs such as sildenafil) are effective in both sexes for this purpose,” researchers wrote.

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