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Last updated: Jul 07, 2022
4 min read

Is Viagra safe? What you need to know

 

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.

An estimated 30 million men in the United States live with erectile dysfunction (ED), which isn’t just a condition affecting older men. Roughly 1 in 4 men newly diagnosed with ED are younger than 40 (Capogrosso, 2013). No matter how old you are, if you’re affected by ED, you’ve probably heard of Viagra (NIH, 2017). 

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) approved Viagra (generic name sildenafil citrate; see Important Safety Information) in 1998 to treat ED, and it has since become one of the top-prescribed treatments in the men’s health space. But despite its popularity, many wonder—is Viagra safe? 

The answer is yes: Viagra is safe if a healthcare provider prescribes the treatment. Every medication comes with its own set of risks. So if you’re thinking about talking to your doctor about “the little blue pill,” you’ll want to discuss and understand those risks in the context of your individual health history and medical conditions.

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How safe is Viagra? 

Viagra and its generic sildenafil are safe if you follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Like all prescription drugs dispensed in the United States, the treatment didn’t become available to the public for the treatment of ED until the FDA deemed Viagra safe and effective, following a robust clinical trial and approval process. 

That said, it’s important to note there is a degree of risk any time a person takes a medication—even if that risk is small. Taking other medications or supplements may affect how safe Viagra is for you. 

How does Viagra work?

What does Viagra do, exactly? 

Erections are pretty complex, and many things can prevent them from working as easily as you might hope. Viagra helps address the underlying symptoms that affect one’s ability to get an erection. The active ingredient in Viagra is sildenafil, a type of drug called a PDE-5 inhibitor that improves blood flow to the penis. It works by blocking the effects of an enzyme called PDE-5 (phosphodiesterase-type 5), allowing more blood flow to reach the penis, making for a stronger erection (Andersson 2018).

Another common question when exploring ED treatment options is, “How long does it take for Viagra to work?” The answer mostly depends on you and your sex life—Viagra can only help you get hard and stay hard if you are already aroused, and it won’t work unless you are sexually stimulated. Generally, it takes about 30 minutes to kick in.

How often can you take Viagra? 

Viagra is meant to be taken on an as-needed basis, and knowing when to take Viagra is a key factor in determining how well the treatment will work for you. It’s meant to be taken on an as-needed basis about an hour before sexual activity, but the treatment may be taken anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours before sexual activity.  

You should take your medication exactly as prescribed at the recommended dose. The little blue pill comes in three dosage strengths (25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg). Your provider may adjust your dose based on how well it works or any side effects you may be experiencing. Regardless of your dose, you should only take a maximum of one Viagra pill in any 24-hour period. You can take this prescription drug on an empty stomach or following a meal (Pfizer, 2017).

If you accidentally take more Viagra than your prescription calls for, you should seek medical attention to avoid potential complications.

What are the long-term side effects of Viagra? 

Evidence suggests there’s no reason to believe there are long-term side effects of Viagra, and complications are generally rare among people taking Viagra as prescribed (Tsertsvadze, 2009).

All medications come with a risk of certain side effects, though, and Viagra is no exception. According to the product label, the most common side effects are (Pfizer, 2017):

  • Headache
  • Facial flushing
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen (dyspepsia)
  • Abnormal or blurred vision
  • Nasal congestion
  • Back pain
  • Aching muscles
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Rash

Although “an erection lasting more than 4 hours” (also called priapism) may seem extreme, it’s actually considered a short-term side effect of Viagra when it happens. Ultimately, your healthcare provider is your best source of medical advice and for knowing how to manage Viagra side effects (Pfizer 2017).

Who should not take Viagra?

ED affects both older and younger men alike. While Viagra is considered safe for most people with ED, some factors and health conditions may make people more prone to bad side effects. People who should not take Viagra, or may be cautioned against taking it due to the risk of serious side effects, include those who (FDA, 2014):

  • Have certain heart conditions that are considered too risky for sexual activity
  • Take medications in certain classes of medications, including alpha-blockers, anti-hypertensives, and nitrates or nitrites
  • Have a history of low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, or heart failure
  • Has experienced a stroke or heart attack in the past six months

The best way to know if the Viagra pill is right for you is to speak to a healthcare provider about your concerns, especially if you have heart conditions.

References

  1. Andersson, K. E. (2018). PDE5 inhibitors – pharmacology and clinical applications 20 years after sildenafil discovery. British Journal of Pharmacology, 175(13), 2554–2565. doi:10.1111/bph.14205. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6003652/
  2. Capogrosso, P., Colicchia, M., Ventimiglia, E., et al. (2013). One patient out of four with newly diagnosed erectile dysfunction is a young man—worrisome picture from the everyday clinical practice. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(7), 1833-1841. doi:10.1111/jsm.12179. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23651423/
  3. National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2017). Definition & facts for erectile dysfunction. Retrieved on June 18, 2022 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts
  4. Pfizer. (2017). VIAGRA (sildenafil citrate): Prescribing information. Retrieved on June 18, 2022 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/20895s039s042lbl.pdf
  5. Tsertsvadze, A., Yazdi, F., Fink, H. A., et al. (2009). Oral sildenafil citrate (viagra) for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of harms. Urology, 74(4), 831–836.e8. doi:10.1016/j.urology.2009.04.026. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19592078/
  6. United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2014). Highlights of prescribing information: Viagra. Retrieved on Jan. 31, 2022 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/20895s039s042lbl.pdf