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Viagra May Help Fight Heart Failure


WebMD Health News

Oct. 8, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Viagra may soon be able to improve matters of the heart in more ways than one. Two new studies presented recently at the Third Annual Scientific Meeting of the Heart Failure Society of America in San Francisco show that the impotence drug's ability to enlarge blood vessels also may be beneficial in treating heart failure.

In one trial, Viagra (sildenafil) was more effective than placebo in helping to open up a blocked artery, the major cause of heart failure. In the second trial, Viagra increased the effects of inhaled nitric oxide in patients with chronic pulmonary hypertension, or increased blood pressure within the lungs. Pulmonary hypertension, a common condition seen in people with heart failure, leads to increasing shortness of breath over time. Nitric oxide is a gas that can dilate blood vessels, thus helping to lower high blood pressure within the lungs.

In the first study, Stuart D. Katz, MD, and colleagues at Columbia University in New York evaluated the effect of a single dose of Viagra on the dilation of blood vessels in patients with moderate heart failure. The study involved four groups of 12 patients. One group was given a placebo. The other three groups received doses of Viagra, ranging from 12.5 mg to 50 mg.

The group that received 12.5 mg of Viagra experienced a slight improvement in their arteries compared to the placebo, but the groups that took 25 mg or 50 mg had much more significant increases in the size of their arteries.

Still, Katz tells WebMD he's somewhat guarded about Viagra's use for long-term conditions. "I have to be somewhat circumspect about the results," he says. "I think this study shows that in an acute setting, there is perhaps some potential for [drugs like Viagra] ... as a therapeutic strategy. This study evaluated a single dose of a short-acting compound. To extrapolate that to chronic use is a huge leap."

Katz says "the findings are intriguing, but this work needs to be followed up with a longer-acting compound, which currently doesn't exist."

In a second study, cardiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston evaluated the effects of Viagra on patients with chronic pulmonary hypertension who inhaled nitric oxide to help their condition.

Researchers found that giving nitric oxide and Viagra in combination produced the greatest improvement in blood flow through vessels in the lungs. Individually, the two drugs caused improvement, but not as much as when working together. Researchers found that each of the drugs outperformed the ability of oxygen to improve blood flow.

"In other studies, we've shown that nitric oxide has beneficial [circulatory] effects in heart failure and beneficial effects on exercise capacity," Marc J. Semigran, MD, co-director of the heart failure and heart transplantation unit at Massachusetts General, tells WebMD.

In contrast to Katz, Semigran says he believes that Viagra could possibly be used all the time, giving doctors another weapon in their fight against heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. "One of the big problems with inhaled nitric oxide is that it has a very short half-life, so the patient has to use it constantly. If [Viagra] can prolong the effects of nitric oxide, it might be possible to take intermittent puffs of nitric oxide to spike the pulmonary circulation," he says.

 

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