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Viagra May Help Crohn's Disease

Researchers Say Weak Immune System May Trigger Disease
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The Viagra Response

The researchers tested this theory by treating 10 Crohn's patients with 50 milligrams of Viagra after injecting them with the killed gut bacteria. They found that blood flow to the infected area improved.

"Increasing blood flow is an important part of the inflammatory response, and that is why this drug may work," Segal says. "But we don't yet know if this will give rise to successful treatment. We need to study this further to find out."

Segal and colleagues are among a growing number of researchers suggesting that a weak immune system, rather than an overactive one, is largely responsible for Crohn's disease, says University of Chicago associate professor of medicine Sunanda Kane, MD.

She adds that the new research adds credibility to the theory but does not prove it.

"This is a little more evidence that maybe we have been barking up the wrong tree," she tells WebMD. "The idea that we should be strengthening the immune system -- rather than suppressing it -- sounded a little crazy at first, but the evidence continues to come in. But we still have a long way to go to really understand what causes Crohn's."

Biologic agents that stimulate a specific part of the immune system are now being tested in Crohn's patients. If such treatments prove effective, Kane says doctors would have an effective alternative to steroids, which work well for many patients but have many side effects.

"For decades now suppressing the immune system [with steroids] has worked, and we will continue to do so until we find alternatives that work for everybody and are risk-free," she says.

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