July 23, 2008 in Nation/World

Study finds Viagra can help women using antidepressants

Low libido a side effect of medicines
By Denise Gellene Los Angeles Times
 

The long search for the female equivalent of Viagra has led researchers to … Viagra.

In a small study of 98 women published today, the little blue pill helped women whose sexual performance had flagged as a side effect of taking antidepressants – a very specific finding that could open a new use for the male impotence drug.

The report in the Journal of the American Medical Association is one of the few to find some benefit for women despite nearly a decade of searching by its maker, Pfizer Inc. More than 6 million American women suffer from major depression. Antidepressants are the most common treatment for the mood disorder, and while they can be a blessing they often bring on debilitating sexual side effects.

Doctors said the study, funded with a grant from Pfizer, could foster broader experimentation with Viagra for women, although they added it was unlikely it would become the blockbuster phenomenon it is among men. Its effectiveness in women is limited compared with men, and Pfizer has said it has no intention of developing the drug for female disorders.

Still, the study is certain to rekindle debate about the nature of sexual problems in women and men. While male difficulties have largely been seen in mechanical terms, female problems have been thought to be more complicated and connected to desire.

But Dr. Irwin Goldstein, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, who has prescribed Viagra for some female patients, said the new research suggests that “however you think about men and women, there are a lot of similarities.”

Not long after Viagra was introduced in 1998 to treat erectile dysfunction in men, Pfizer started researching its use in women. The company hoped to add to the success of the drug, which had worldwide sales of $1.76 billion last year.

Initial studies of Viagra in women were disappointing. The drug blocks an enzyme that inhibits blood flow, which, in the case of men, allows more blood to flow to the penis. In women, the drug increased engorgement of genital tissue but failed to enhance women’s enjoyment of sex. Pfizer ended company-initiated trials of the drug for female sexual arousal disorder in 2004.

However, many doctors said that the early studies weren’t selective enough because they included women who lacked desire. Such women, like men with desire problems, couldn’t expect to be helped by Viagra.

The latest study was confined to women with arousal problems. They all had been diagnosed with major depression and were taking a specific class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Their depression was in remission when the study began.

The women, all of whom were pre-menopausal, were divided into two groups. Half were assigned to take Viagra one to two hours before sexual activity for eight weeks. The remaining women received the same instructions but were given a placebo.

At the end of the study, 72 percent of women taking Viagra, and 27 percent of those taking a placebo, reported improvement. The side effects were those typically associated with Viagra, including headaches and flushing.


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