Drugs to Treat Erectile Dysfunction


Erectile dysfunction can have many causes, but medications including Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are often the recommended treatment.

Whether a man is dealing with a health condition that’s affecting his ability to have an erection or with stress, anxiety, or relationship problems that can cause erectile dysfunction (ED), prescription ED drugs are one of the most popular methods of treatment.

Viagra, the First Erectile Dysfunction Drug

Viagra (sildenafil), “the little blue pill,” was the first erectile dysfunction medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1998. Sildenafil is a phosphodiesterase, or PDE, inhibitor, which means that it boosts the impact of the chemical nitric oxide. Nitric oxide allows the smooth muscles inside the penis to relax, promoting more blood flow to the area during sexual arousal or stimulation. Viagra is typically prescribed in a dosage of about 50 milligrams (mg), although that amount may vary from person to person.

Viagra starts to work within about an hour, and the effects can last for up to four hours — erections don’t last that long, but a man has the ability to have an erection for four hours. Viagra doesn’t give you an automatic erection — stimulation and arousal are still required.

Potential side effects and risks of taking Viagra include:

  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Congestion in the nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Vision clouded with a blue tint
  • Headache
  • Digestive problems

People taking nitrate medications like nitroglycerin for a heart condition should not use Viagra, because the combination of medications can cause a rapid lowering of blood pressure. Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, particularly alpha blockers for high blood pressure. Taking alpha blockers with Viagra can also cause dangerously low blood pressure, and your doctor may need to change the type of medication you take or the dosage to prevent problems.

Levitra for Erectile Dysfunction

Levitra (vardenafil hydrochloride) is very similar to Viagra, as it is also a PDE inhibitor. Levitra also begins to work within about an hour and lasts for up to four hours. It’s generally prescribed in a lower dosage than Viagra (typically around 10 mg), but the dosage can vary.

Since it works the same way as Viagra, Levitra is also dangerous for people taking nitrates or alpha blockers because it can cause serious drops in blood pressure. Levitra also can cause all of the same side effects as Viagra as well as dizziness.

Cialis for Erectile Dysfunction

Cialis (tadalafil) is also a PDE inhibitor, and works the same way and with the same possible risks and side effects as Viagra. But with Cialis, erections are possible for 24 to 36 hours, a much longer time period than with either Viagra or Levitra. Cialis typically works a little more quickly than the other drugs, within about 30 minutes. Like Levitra, Cialis is typically administered in pills of 10 mg, but dosage can be adjusted by a doctor as needed.

Other Cautions About Erectile Dysfunction Drugs

People who shouldn’t take the PDE inhibitor drugs Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis include those with:

  • Heart failure
  • High or low blood pressure that is poorly controlled
  • Poorly-controlled diabetes
  • A recent stroke

None of these drugs should be taken more than once per day; always follow your doctor’s instructions when using them.

Other Erectile Dysfunction Drug Choices

If erectile dysfunction is associated with a low testosterone level, it can often be treated with prescription testosterone therapy.

Drugs also can be injected into the penis to encourage blood flow. They include Caverject (alprostadil), phentolamine, and papaverine hydrochloride; however, these drugs may cause side effects like scarring of the tissues in the penis and prolonged erections.

Paying for Erectile Dysfunction Drugs

Most insurance companies won’t cover the cost of erectile dysfunction drugs, and Medicare won’t either. However, generics are available. Ask your pharmacist about store pricing. Prices vary widely, but expect to pay over $1 per pill for generic Viagra and $3 for generic Levitra.

Another caution about ED drugs: They can help, but don’t let a pill mask a serious medical condition that could be causing your erectile dysfunction. Work with your doctor to address any emotional or physical health issues that may be at the root of your erection difficulties.


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