Erectile dysfunction (ED) medications may be able to provide a health benefit for women: they may help treat menstrual cramps.
Researchers led by Dr. Richard S. Legro, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and public health sciences at Penn State's Milton S. Hersey Medical Center in Hersey, Pa., have found that vaginally-administered ED treatments may be able to help alleviate the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea (PD), or pain during menstruation.
"If future studies confirm these findings, sildenafil (Viagra) may become a treatment option for patients with PD," Legro said in a press release.
PD is the most common source of pelvic pain for women. The symptoms can be treated by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen. However, not all women can take ibuprofen, and if it the medication is used frequently it can lead to ulcers and kidney damage.
"Since PD is a condition that most women suffer from and seek treatment for at some point in their lives, our study offers hope that vaginal sildenafil citrate is a safe and effective option for patients who do not desire or are unresponsive to treatments now available on the market," the authors wrote.
The active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil citrate, works by dilating or expanding blood vessels. It has previously been thought to be a potential treatment for pelvic pain. Other studies have shown some benefits to taking sildenafil citrate orally for PD, but taking the drug in this method has been linked to negative side effects, including headaches.
Researchers gave 25 women who were between 18 and 35 years old either a placebo or sildenafil citrate vaginally. They were then told to rate how bad their cramps were over the course of four hours.
Those who received sildenafil were more likely to have their menstrual cramp symptoms disappear without side effects throughout the four hours.
Doctors thought that the medication would help treat the pelvic pain by increasing blood flow. However, they found that patients who received the placebo also had increased blood flow in the uterus, so they are unsure why sildenafil citrate helped relieve the cramps.
The researchers called for larger studies that would look at the benefits of using sildenafil citrate vaginally and to see whether the treatment affects menstrual bleeding patterns. They had to halt the study early due to a lack of funding.
The study was first published in August 2013 in Human Reproduction.