Viagra’s Effects On The Body (besides The Obvious One)

A look at how erectile dysfunction meds interact with your body’s anatomy

Credit: Jesse Orrico / Unsplash

Disclaimer: Your healthcare provider is the best source of health and medical information. Articles written by UPGUYS are informed by peer-reviewed studies and research, as well as governmental health authorities and agencies—but they cannot replace advice from a healthcare professional. Talk to your healthcare provider about any physical or mental health concerns you might have. 

Sildenafil—better known under the brand name Viagra—is praised worldwide for its ability to help men get and stay hard during sexual activity. The drug’s close relatives tadalafil (Cialis) and vardenafil (Levitra) have also become popular medical treatments of the most common sexual performance issue men face. 

But Viagra and its siblings also affect other parts of the body. Side effects from these drugs—known as PDE5 inhibitors—range from somewhat common and mild to rare and potentially dangerous. Since PDE5 inhibitors pass through a few different areas of the body before making their exit, here are a few of those areas—and some side effects—to be aware of.

You should consult your doctor prior to taking any medications for erectile dysfunction for a full understanding of the potential side effects and interactions with other medicines. 

Central Nervous System

Erections are complex. In addition to sexual stimulation and being in the mood, your brain needs to send the right signals to the body to get hard. Because PDE5 inhibitors interact with the central nervous system, there are a wide-range of potential side effects. 

Common and Mild Side Effects

  • Headache
  • Runny/congested nose
  • Back/muscle pain

Rare but Serious Side Effects

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss

If you experience any of these serious side effects, or you experience worsening or persistent mild side effects, seek medical help immediately. 

Cardiovascular System

Viagra, Cialis and Levitra all share a similar mechanism of action. When used in combination with sexual stimulation, PDE5 inhibitors act to relax smooth muscles and blood vessels, causing them to widen and allow for increased blood flow to the penis. Since Viagra is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, there is potential for certain adverse effects within the circulatory system. 

  • Flushing or redness—This is usually mild and decreases with time 
  • Decreased blood pressure—This can cause complications with those whose blood pressure is already low
  • Heart attack/stroke—While the risk is low, sildenafil can interact with other medications that contain nitrates and lead to a heart attack or stroke 
  • Overall heart health—PDE5 inhibitors should be avoided when taking long-lasting alpha-blockers as the interaction can cause heart problems

Reproductive System

PDE5 inhibitors’ main area of focus is indeed below-the-belt—specifically the penis. Although, tadalafil (Cialis) is also used in the treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). The drugs normally produce noticeable effects between 30-60 minutes after taking them. There are a couple important points to note when it comes to taking Viagra and your reproductive system. 

  • Priapism—This is an erection that lasts for more than four hours; it can cause pain and discomfort. Men experiencing an erection lasting for more than four hours should seek immediate medical attention 
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)—PDE5 inhibitors do not protect against STIs
  • Peyronie’s disease—This condition refers to an anatomical abnormality in the penis. It can make getting and maintaining an erection painful. Talk to your doctor if you have Peyronie’s disease and are thinking of taking Viagra 

Digestive system 

What goes up must come down; and what goes in must come out. Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors eventually make their departure through feces and urine. But they can sometimes cause a bit of stomach discomfort along the way. 

  • Indigestion/Upset Stomach—Usually mild and passes after a few hours
  • Nausea/Vomiting—Talk to your doctor if you regularly experience either after PDE5 inhibitors