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Viagra May Help Fight Heart Failure

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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."

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