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Last updated: Nov 10, 2022
5 min read

Viagra not working? 4 tips on how to make Viagra work better

chimene richa

Medically Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD

Written by Michael Martin

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.

Viagra (active ingredient sildenafil; see Important Safety Information) is a highly effective, FDA-approved medication used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). But like any other medication, it’s not a magic pill. If you find Viagra doesn’t work, you can make changes to improve the effectiveness of the drug. Taking the pill at the right time, not taking it on a full stomach, and avoiding taking it with excessive drug or alcohol use all might improve the effectiveness of the medication if Viagra doesn’t work for you. Lifestyle changes and healthy habits may also improve your experience with Viagra.  

Whether you’re taking Viagra for the first time or you’re a seasoned pro, continue reading so you can learn how to make Viagra work best for you.

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How does Viagra work?

Viagra treats erectile dysfunction by stopping the chemical reaction that causes blood to leave an erect penis—this is key to understanding how to take Viagra as effectively as possible. 

More specifically, Viagra is a member of a class of drugs called PDE-5 inhibitors. These work by blocking an enzyme called PDE-5, which encourages blood to flow out of the penis. When PDE-5 is blocked, it keeps the blood vessels in the penis open, allowing blood to flow into the penis more freely, making it easier to get and maintain an erection.

PDE-5 inhibitors like Viagra don’t cause an erection automatically. Sexual arousal is necessary to get an erection on Viagra. So, the first step you can take to boost the effects of Viagra is to set the mood.

What impacts the effectiveness of Viagra?

Several factors can influence how quickly and effectively Viagra works once you take it. Here are some tips that can really help Viagra do its thing.

1. Avoid taking it on a full stomach

If you take Viagra on a full stomach—particularly if you’ve had a heavy, high-fat meal—the medication may take longer to work (Zucchi, 2019). 

A full stomach can delay your body’s absorption of Viagra by up to an hour, meaning your erection might come later than expected, be less strong than you want, or not last as long as you’d like. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take Viagra on an empty stomach, but be mindful of taking it too close to full, heavy meals.

2. Avoid drinking alcohol or taking drugs

While it’s safe to drink alcohol with Viagra in moderation, drinking may make it more difficult to get an erection. Alcohol is a depressant that affects many different systems in the body, including those involved in producing an erection. 

Alcohol, as well as illicit drugs and marijuana, can worsen ED symptoms. Chronic heavy drinking damages the liver, heart, and nerves, as well as reduces testosterone—all of which can lead to ED and make it more difficult for Viagra to achieve its desired effect (Arackal, 2007). 

3. Take the recommended dose––and get the timing right

Ideally, Viagra should be taken 30–60 minutes before you plan to have sex for best results. It needs time to work, so taking Viagra too close to the time that you need it may make it more difficult to get an erection strong enough for satisfying sex

Taking Viagra too early may do the same. Because Viagra works for about four hours before wearing off, taking it too far in advance of sexual activity (say, in the morning when you plan to have sex at night) might not lead to the erection you want. If you’re new to Viagra, try it out a couple of times solo to see how it affects you. Knowing how you react to Viagra might take some pressure off when it comes to partnered play.

If you’re taking Viagra exactly as you’re supposed to and it still doesn’t work for you, adjusting the dose or switching to a different prescription medication might help. Speak to your healthcare provider so they can make the appropriate adjustments to your prescription (and never take more Viagra than is prescribed to you).

4. Improve your overall health

Viagra (and erections in general) work best when you’re healthy. A healthy body—particularly a healthy heart—is your best asset in overcoming ED. 

Since an erection requires good blood flow, anything that hinders blood flow makes getting an erection more difficult. That’s true even if you take Viagra. The best way to get longer lasting, stronger erections is by improving blood flow and blood pressure and maintaining healthy hormone levels. You can keep your heart healthy with these tips:

  • Get enough cardiovascular exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for erectile dysfunction, especially because it can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, and other medical conditions that affect blood flow. One study found that men who were inactive or moderately active (less than 150 minutes of physical activity a week) were as much as 60% more likely to experience ED than men who got at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (Janiszewski, 2009). 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. A large, multi-year study found that obesity nearly doubles a person’s risk for ED. Obesity is also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which can damage nerves and blood vessels throughout the body. This includes those that supply the penis, which can result in ED (Bacon, 2006).
  • Don’t smoke. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of toxins that can damage the lining of the blood vessels in your body, including the penis. Research has linked cigarette smoking to erectile dysfunction and shown that stopping smoking can help improve symptoms of ED (Kovac, 2015). 

Viagra side effects

All medications have the potential to cause side effects, and ED medications like Viagra are no different. Common side effects of Viagra tend to be mild and include (Smith, 2022): 

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Upset stomach or indigestion
  • Abnormal vision (increased sensitivity to light, blurred vision, or blue-tinted vision)
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Back pain
  • Insomnia
  • Rash
  • Muscle pain

Serious side effects of Viagra are less common but require urgent medical attention if experienced. These include: 

  • Priapism (a prolonged, painful erection that won’t go away)
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Ringing in ears or hearing loss
  • Seizures
  • Swelling in your arms or legs

If you’re taking Viagra but haven’t achieved the desired effects, these tips may make the medication more effective. If all else fails, a different dosage or alternative medication might be a better fit. Speak with your healthcare provider to learn how you can get the most out of your erectile dysfunction medication.

References

  1. Arackal, B. S. & Benegal, V. (2007). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49(2), 109–112. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.33257. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917074/
  2. Bacon, C. G., Mittleman, M. A., Kawachi, I., et al. (2006). A prospective study of risk factors for erectile dysfunction. The Journal of Urology, 176(1), 217–221. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(06)00589-1. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16753404/
  3. DailyMed. (2017). Viagra- sildenafil citrate tablet, film-coated. Retrieved on Nov. 9, 2022 from https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/lookup.cfm?setid=a2a9f459-e692-4e85-83b0-a35fbf35e91b
  4. Janiszewski, P. M., Janssen, I., & Ross, R. (2009). Abdominal obesity and physical inactivity are associated with erectile dysfunction independent of body mass index. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(7), 1990-1998. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01302.x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19453892.
  5. Kovac, J. R., Labbate, C., Ramasamy, R., et al. (2015). Effects of cigarette smoking on erectile dysfunction. Andrologia, 47(10), 1087–1092. Doi: 10.1111/and.12393. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25557907/
  6. Smith, B. P. & Babos, M. (2022). Sildenafil. StatPearls. Retrieved on Nov. 9, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558978/
  7. Zucchi, A., Costantini, E., Scroppo, F. I., et al. (2019). The first-generation phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors and their pharmacokinetic issue. Andrology, 7(6), 804–817. doi:10.1111/andr.12683. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31350821/ 

Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.