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Powerful Pills: FDA Approved Medications for Erectile Dysfunction

Part 2 of an exclusive 6-part AccessRX series

Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, is a problem that many – if not most – men face at some time in their lives. In the first article in this series we discussed the signs and symptoms, as well as the possible causes, of ED. Now it’s time for a more detailed look at some of the many treatment options for men with ED. We’ll begin with the most obvious ones: the prescription drugs for ED. These days when most men think about ED treatments, the first that come to mind are the widely advertised medications such as Viagra, Cialis, Cialis for daily use, Levitra, or Staxyn. Stendra, a new product for erectile dysfunction, is set to hit the market in late 2012 or early 2013.  These are the drugs currently approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they’re the ones we’ll be discussing here.

But first a couple of disclaimers. Since the FDA is a United States government agency, if you live somewhere else, some of the information in this article may not apply to you. Availability of medications and other treatments may vary from country to country, so always be sure to consult with a physician or other qualified health care practitioner in your area. In addition, research is an ongoing process, and in the future there will almost certainly be more medications (and other options) for the treatment of ED. So stay tuned to this blog for updated information. Meanwhile, the information in this article is current at the time of publication.

Now that we have the disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a hard look (so to speak) at some of those famous “boner pills” that everyone is talking about. First we’ll take a few moments to discuss how these pills work. Try to stay awake, and don’t worry, there won’t be a test afterward.

Rules of engorgement
Enzymes, as you may have learned in your biology or physiology classes a lifetime ago, are protein molecules that work as catalysts – that is, they bring about specific biochemical reactions. The human body produces thousands upon thousands of different enzymes, but the ED medications we’ll be discussing here all target a specific type of enzyme known as phosphodiesterase type 5, or PDE5. These drugs are called, appropriately enough, PDE5 inhibitors.

What does PDE5 do, and why does it need to be inhibited? When everything is functioning properly, it doesn’t, but sometimes PDE5 does its job too well. Under normal circumstances, sexual stimulation prompts production and release of nitric oxide in a man’s penis. The nitric oxide creates an enzyme, guanylate cyclase, which in turn creates a nucleotide called cyclic guanosine monophosphate, or cGMP. If everything is functioning well, the cGMP opens up blood pathways in the penis, resulting in that glorious engorgement that manifests as an erection. It’s important to note that it is cGMP that is primarily responsible for the erection; it affects the amount of blood that the vessels deliver to (and remove from) the penis.

But there’s also another enzyme waiting in the wings – PDE5 – which offsets the enzyme that created the cGMP. If it were not for PDE5, men would be walking around with a permanent hard-on – medically known as a priapism, which can not only be embarrassing but can result in painful injury. For any number of reasons, however, this delicate dance of enzymes and bodily processes can malfunction. PDE5’s job is to degrade cGMP, but when there are problems producing the cGMP in the first place, it’s overkill – and all too often the result is ED.

Enter the PDE5 inhibitor drugs mentioned above. They block the action of PDE5 and prevent it from destroying cGMP, allowing the latter to accumulate in the body and stay there for a longer period of time. As you might imagine, PDE5 inhibitor medications are very popular; more than 18.5 million prescriptions were written in the US in 2010 alone. Let’s look at these prescription drugs individually.

Viagra (sildenafil citrate) (Manufactured by: Pfizer)
Though the active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil, is also marketed under a couple of other trade names (some for conditions other than Erectile Dysfunction), Viagra is the most well-known of them all. It was the first to hit the market and remains the most-prescribed ED pill today. Originally developed by British scientists and brought to market by the US-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer, Viagra has been available since 1998 and is the tried-and-true standby for men who desire harder erections. It also helps a man maintain an erection throughout sexual contact. Viagra is a standard treatment for ED, including for men with diabetes.

True to its famous nickname, “The Little Blue Pill,” Viagra comes in easily recognizable diamond-shaped blue pills, in doses of 25, 50, or 100 milligrams. For Erectile Dysfunction the recommended dose of Viagra is 25 mg to 100 mg, taken not more than once every 24  hours, between 30 minutes and four hours prior to sexual intercourse. (For information on side effects, see the section below.) Viagra can be taken with meals, but do note that high-fat meals may slow the absorption rate of the drug. Our advice? Just say no to that 10,000-calorie jumbo bacon cheeseburger and large fries combo, and go for something light, healthy, and low-fat. Even vegan, maybe. Your date will be impressed with how health-conscious you are, and when the Viagra takes effect she will really be impressed.

Order Viagra here.

and Cialis for daily use (tadalafil) (Manufactured by: LillyICOS)
In late 2003, the FDA approved Cialis as a prescription treatment for Erectile Dysfunction in the US. Cialis’ active ingredient, tadalafil, had already been in use for ED in Europe for a few years, and was also an ingredient in some over-the-counter sexual stamina supplements in the US. Like the ingredient in Viagra, tadalafil is sometimes prescribed, under a different trade name and a different dosage, for other medical conditions besides ED, most notably, pulmonary arterial hypertension. And in October 2011 the FDA approved tadalafil as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also known as an enlarged prostate. But it is as a treatment for Erectile Dysfunction that tadalafil is best known.

The original Cialis became known as “The Weekend Pill” because of its 36-hour effectiveness, although like others in its class of drugs it is recommended as an “as needed” medication. Cialis is a yellow almond-shaped pill that comes in 10 or 20 mg strengths, and it may be taken with food. In early 2008 the FDA approved Cialis for daily use, which is similar in appearance to original Cialis but comes in smaller dosages of 2.5 mg and 5 mg. As of this writing, Cialis is the only one of the FDA-approved PDE5 inhibitors available in a daily dose. A big advantage of the daily dosage is that it doesn’t cut into sexual spontaneity; there’s no waiting half an hour or more for your ED med to take effect. So, as the commercial says, “When the moment is right…”

A common side effect of Cialis or Cialis for daily use is that no matter how or where you start out, you and your partner will somehow end up sitting side by side in twin bathtubs somewhere outdoors, and it is very difficult to have sex in that position, perhaps even more difficult than it was for Rob and Laura Petrie or Ricky and Lucy Ricardo to have sex while sleeping in twin beds. But seriously now… See the bit on side effects below.

Order Cialis here, or order Cialis for daily use here.

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Levitra (vardenafil HCl) (Manufactured by: Bayer)
Like Cialis, Levitra was originally approved for use an Erectile Dysfunction treatment in the US in 2003, giving Viagra a run for its money. Levitra’s active ingredient, vardenafil, may also be effective in the treatment of problematic premature ejaculation. Levitra is known for being the fastest acting of the three main ED drugs; it can work in as little as 12 minutes. A single dose lasts up to five hours, and the drug can remain in the system for up to 24 hours.

Levitra is a round, orange-colored pill with the characteristic Bayer crisscross insignia. It comes in 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 10 mg and 20 mg dosages, though the usual starting dosage is 10 mg (which is roughly equivalent to 50 mg of sildenafil, Viagra’s active ingredient). See the section below for information on possible side effects.

Staxyn (vardenafil HCl) (Manufactured by: Bayer)
Staxyn, which has the same active ingredient as Levitra, is one of the safest and newest ED medications on the market; it has fewer side effects than some of the others. Even so, Staxyn is not approved for daily use, and should only be taken as needed, approximately 60 minutes before engaging in sexual activity.

Staxyn is the first Erectile Dysfunction disintegrating pill made to be taken without liquid. In other words, it comes as a dissolvable tablet to take by mouth, usually placed under the tongue. So if you have ED and you have a problem swallowing pills (many people do), Staxyn may be just what you were looking for. Staxyn is currently available in a 10 mg dosage. It is a small round white pill with a fresh peppermint flavor, but don’t be fooled: it is neither a breath mint nor a candy mint. It’s serious medicine.

Order Levitra here, or order Staxyn here.

Here is a page with a chart that allows you to easily compare Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra.
As of this writing, none of the above-mentioned drugs is available in a generic form. Beware of anyone who claims to be selling generic and/or nonprescription Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, or Staxyn, as those medications may be unregulated and/or harmful to your health. (And some of the sites these questionable meds are sold on may even be harmful to your computer.) For more information about any of the drugs above, you should check with your doctor.

Side effects to watch out for
Like most powerful drugs, these ED pills, including Staxyn, can have side effects (besides the desired one of a rock-hard erection). The most common side effects are minor and transient, such as headaches, facial flushing, or upset stomach. Less common but potentially more serious is the above-mentioned priapism; you probably know that warning by heart from the ED drug commercials: “See your doctor if you have an erection lasting more than four hours.” That’s been the fodder for many a joke, but in real life a priapism is anything but funny. Other uncommon but potentially serious side effects of PDE5 inhibitors include vision changes – most notably, seeing a bluish tint – or hearing problems.

The manufacturers also warn not to take their ED pills if you take nitrates for chest pain, as this combination can cause dangerously low blood pressure. And as with any medication, do not drink in excess while taking an ED medication. Actually, drinking in excess can defeat your whole purpose, making it more difficult to get an erection, not to mention the possibility that you may throw up on your date. All things considered, it’s better just to leave the booze alone. Also note that grapefruit or grapefruit juice can boost the blood levels of PDE5 medications, which might have unintended consequences.

And one more thing: We hear rumors that some younger guys with no known erectile difficulties are popping ED pills recreationally, either to increase their sexual stamina or just to give them the oomph to party all night. This is, to put it mildly, a bad idea. It can result in all sorts of health problems, or at the very least, psychological dependency. Bottom line: ED drugs are for those who need them. Don’t take any drug, prescription or otherwise, if you don’t need it.

The power of choice
As noted above, research is ongoing, and you can expect new drugs for Erectile Dysfunction, as well as generic versions of the older ED drugs, in the years to come. Men today are fortunate that they have so many options to treat their ED. If you have ED, you don’t have to just accept it; today there are more ways than ever for you to Take Back Your Power.

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Read the first article in this series:
Erectile Dysfunction overview: causes and options for treatment

In future articles in this series we’ll explore:

Note: When ordering prescription drugs online, always make sure you are ordering from a reliable source, such as AccessRX.com.

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About AccessRX Staff

AccessRx is a USA corporation founded in 1998. Since, we have become one of the top online providers in FDA-approved, brand-name medications. We specializes in providing our over 500,000 customers with relevant product and condition information created by our professional editorial staff which includes our team of medical writers, medical practitioners and health educators. AccessRx Staff on Facebook

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