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Viagra: The Little Blue Pill and the CIA!

By January 16, 2009

Drug of the Week
Each week, Dr. Mike features a commonly used medication or class of drugs. Learn what they are used for, how they work, and any news updates or controversies.

Viagra (Sildenafil), along with Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil), is used to treat erectile dysfunction. These medications, which belong to class of drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5 inhibitors), can be taken at least an hour before you plan to be sexually active. PDE-5 inhibitors have a high success rate, are easy to use, and often result in an erection if you are sexually stimulated.

How PDE-5 Inhibitors Work
For the duration of an erection, blood fills tissue in your penis, causing it to enlarge and become stiff. The PDE-5 inhibitors relax smooth muscle, allowing your penis to fill with blood.

Side Effects of the PDE-5 Inhibitors
The more common side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors include skin flushing, stuffy or runny nose, diarrhea, indigestion, and headache. You may also experience some vision problems for several hours after taking a PDE-5 inhibitor, including a slight bluish tinge to your vision or increased sensitivity to light.

Do Not Use a PDE-5 Inhibitor If... you are taking any medications that contain nitrates (such as nitroglycerin used to treat chest pain) or using an alpha-blocker (such as Cardura used to treat high blood pressure or an enlarged prostate). The combination of these medications with a PDE-5 inhibitor can lower your blood pressure significantly, possibly causing a stroke or heart attack. Talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options for you erectile dysfunction.

Viagra and the CIA
Last month, the Washington Post reported that a 60-year-old Afghan tribal chief with four younger wives was given Viagra by a CIA officer. According to the article, the officer "returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills." Perhaps the four wives were smiling as well!

What do you think? Leave a comment below or in the Medication Forum.

To ask me a question about medication, email me at drugs.guide@about.com.

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Photo Rpsycho/istockphoto.com

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