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Diabetes Health Center

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Viagra May Help Diabetics' Stomach Woes

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Annie Finnegan

Aug. 1, 2000 -- Daily doses of Viagra may ease the pain of diabetes -- but not the way you might think. Animal studies hint that the male impotence drug reverses one of the worst miseries of diabetes: The stomach's refusal to empty after meals.

The problem affects as many as half of all diabetics and some three-fourths of those who have had diabetes for more than five years. Called gastroparesis, the occasional illness causes bloating, pain, appetite loss, and sometimes fits of vomiting. Currently, there is no effective long-term treatment in the U.S. -- especially since Propulsid, the most commonly used drug, has been withdrawn from the market due to safety concerns.

The new findings turn current thinking about gastroparesis inside out. "Maybe we have been thinking about it wrong," lead researcher Christopher D. Ferris, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "They called it gastroparesis, which means 'stomach paralysis,' because they thought the stomach failed to squeeze stuff out. But now we know it is failure to relax -- we've kind of turned it around."

Ferris and co-workers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore discovered something unusual in the muscle that opens and closes the bottom of the stomach. Using laboratory mice with diseases that mimic human diabetes, they found that emptying food from the stomach depends on the ability of nerve cells in this muscle to process an important chemical. This same problem -- in a different muscle, of course -- afflicts men whose impotence can be relieved by Viagra.

When Ferris' team gave Viagra to the mice, it prevented the animals from developing stomach problems. Because gastroparesis in the mice was strikingly similar to gastroparesis in diabetic patients -- and because Viagra already is an approved drug -- Ferris says he will begin human studies in September or October of this year. Should these trials prove the treatment is safe -- a major question, as diabetics are prone to heart disease and Viagra can be dangerous in heart patients -- larger human studies will follow quickly. Such studies will be centered at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., with which Ferris now is affiliated.

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