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Last updated: May 12, 2022
5 min read

Generic Viagra: how does it compare to the “little blue pill?”

yael coopermangina-allegretti

Medically Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD

Written by Gina Allegretti, MD

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

You don’t need to have experienced erectile dysfunction (ED) to be familiar with a little blue pill called Viagra. Viagra has been a powerhouse in ED treatment for decades, offering harder and longer erections for more satisfying sex. The generic version of Viagra is sildenafil, but does it do everything that the brand-name Viagra does? 

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What is generic Viagra?   

Generic Viagra and brand-name Viagra contain the same active ingredient, a drug called sildenafil (see Important Safety Information). Generic medications, in general, are the non-name brand version of the same drug (think Kleenex versus store brand tissues—generic Viagra is the same product but without the fancy label).

But that “off-brand” generic product isn’t a lesser product. Generic medications must have the same effects as the branded option to be marketed in the United States. Still, generics are often significantly less expensive without the brand name attached.

In the case of generic Viagra, the active ingredient, sildenafil, is a medication commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction. ED occurs when you can’t get or maintain an erection that’s hard or long enough for satisfying sex. If you’ve experienced ED, you’re not alone—it affects up to 30 million men in the US (Nunes, 2012). There are several ED treatments available, sildenafil chief among them. 

Does generic Viagra work? 

Generic Viagra works the same way as brand-name Viagra. Sildenafil is a type of drug called a PDE5 inhibitor (phosphodiesterase-5 enzyme inhibitor), which is a group of medications that also includes the ED drugs Cialis (tadalafil; see Important Safety Information) and Levitra (vardenafil). They work by blocking a chemical called PDE5, increasing blood flow to the penis so that it’s easier to get and keep an erection.

Studies have found that the generic option, sildenafil, helps up to 65% of men with ED maintain their erections, which is just as effective as brand-name Viagra (McMahon, 2019). The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) requires all generic medications to contain the same active ingredients, dosages, and formulations as brand-name drugs to achieve the same results (FDA, 2021). 

Generic Viagra dosage

Generic Viagra tablets come in the same dosages as brand-name Viagra: 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg pills. Sildenafil is also available as an injection and an oral suspension.

A typical starting dose is 50mg of Viagra taken 30–60 minutes before sexual activity, though it may be effective even when taken up to four hours before sex. A healthcare provider will help determine the appropriate dose for you. 

Generic Viagra side effects

Since generic Viagra works the same way in the body as brand-name Viagra, they have the same kinds of side effects. Common side effects include (Smith, 2022): 

  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Flushing
  • Dizziness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Rash
  • Body aches

More serious side effects of sildenafil are less common but can include (FDA, 2014; Smith, 2022):

  • Low blood pressure: Sildenafil makes your blood vessels relax (dilate), so your blood pressure may suddenly drop. 
  • Fainting
  • Priapism: A painful erection that lasts four hours or longer
  • Hearing loss: This is a possible side effect of ED meds like sildenafil, though the data is inconclusive (Maddox, 2009). 
  • Eye disease (nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION): Rarely, sildenafil can decrease blood flow to the eyes’ nerves, leading to sudden vision loss (Pomeranz, 2002).  

Sildenafil is not safe for everyone. For example, people who have a history of heart disease (like heart attacks and high blood pressure) should not take sildenafil. It can also cause adverse drug interactions when combined with certain other medications, like nitroglycerin (nitrates), blood pressure drugs, and HIV drugs. It’s important to let your provider know all medications and supplements you’re taking before you start sildenafil.  

Generic Viagra: what does it look like? 

Generic Viagra often looks different from brand-name Viagra. The familiar “little blue pill” is made by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, but other companies can make generic versions. Each company’s design may look different, but this doesn’t change the activity of the drug. 

Can you get generic Viagra over the counter? 

Generic Viagra and brand name Viagra are prescription drugs. They’re not available over-the-counter (OTC) in the US. 

Some online pharmacies claim to offer generic Viagra over the counter, but those claims are a red flag. It’s important to ensure that you’re purchasing your medication through a licensed pharmacy to be sure you receive sildenafil and not a counterfeit version (FDA, 2019). Counterfeit pills often don’t contain the drug advertised, have the wrong dosage, and may contain potentially toxic filler ingredients and dyes, so it’s important to buy from a pharmacy you can trust (Jackson, 2010).  

You can search for licensed online pharmacies here

Generic Viagra cost

One key difference between generic and brand name Viagra is price. According to GoodRx, brand-name Viagra costs an average of $70–75 per pill, while generic Viagra costs as little as $4 per pill (GoodRx, n.d.). So the medications have the same effect on your body, but the generic version is better for your wallet. 

Generic Viagra and brand name Viagra contain the same active ingredient, sildenafil, and work the same way in your body. The main differences between the two are the appearance and the price. Both are prescription medications that you can’t buy over the counter. If you have symptoms of ED or questions about generic Viagra, speak to your healthcare provider. 

References

  1. GoodRx. (n.d.). Viagra (sildenafil). Retrieved on Apr. 28, 2022 from https://www.goodrx.com/viagra?dosage=50mg&form=tablet&label_override=Viagra&quantity=1&sort_type=popularity 
  2. Gong, B., Ma, M., Xie, W., et al. (2017). Direct comparison of tadalafil with sildenafil for the treatment of erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Urology and Nephrology, 49(10), 1731–1740. doi:10.1007/s11255-017-1644-5. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558978/ 
  3. Jackson, G., Arver, S., Banks, I., et al. (2010). Counterfeit phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors pose significant safety risks. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 64(4), 497–504. doi:10.1111/j.1742-1241.2009.02328.x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3069491/ 
  4. Karaarslan, C. (2020). Ocular side effects of sildenafil that persist beyond 24 h-A case series. Frontiers in Neurology, 11, 67. doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.00067. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7019110/ 
  5. Maddox, P. T., Saunders, J., & Chandrasekhar, S. S. (2009). Sudden hearing loss from PDE-5 inhibitors: A possible cellular stress etiology. Laryngoscope,119(8):1586-1589. doi:10.1002/lary.20511. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19507217/ 
  6. McGwin, G. (2010). Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor use and hearing impairment. Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, 136(5), 488–492. doi:10.1001/archoto.2010.51. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/496308 
  7. McMahon, C. G. (2019). Current diagnosis and management of erectile dysfunction. The Medical Journal of Australia, 210(10), 469–476. doi:10.5694/mja2.50167. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31099420/ 
  8. Nunes, K. P., Labazi, H., & Webb, R. C. (2012). New insights into hypertension-associated erectile dysfunction. Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension, 21(2), 163–170. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0b013e32835021bd. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4004343/ 
  9. Pomeranz, H. D., Smith, K. H., Hart, W. M., Jr, & Egan, R. A. (2002). Sildenafil-associated nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. Ophthalmology, 109(3), 584–587. doi: 10.1016/s0161-6420(01)00976-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11874765/ 
  10. Smith, B. P. & Babos, M. (2022). Sildenafil. StatPearls. Retrieved on Apr. 27, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558978/ 
  11. Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. W. (2022). Erectile dysfunction. StatPearls. Retrieved on Apr. 27, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/ 
  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2021). Generic drugs: questions and answers. Retrieved on Apr. 28, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/frequently-asked-questions-popular-topics/generic-drugs-questions-answers
  13. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2019). Know your online pharmacy.  Retrieved on Apr. 27, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/quick-tips-buying-medicines-over-internet/besaferx-your-source-online-pharmacy-information
  14. United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2014). Highlights of prescribing information: Viagra. Retrieved on Apr. 27, 2022 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/20895s039s042lbl.pdf