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Nearly half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 suffer from erectile dysfunction in the UK – this is around 4.3 million people.
But reports suggest the ‘little blue pill’ is now becoming increasingly popular with younger individuals in their twenties and thirties.
A 2020 survey of 5,000 people carried out for Upjohn, the maker of Viagra Connect, the over-the-counter version of the drug, showed that 18 per cent of 18-24-year-old men had erection difficulties.
And more recently, the ease of getting the drug without a prescription seems to be fueling its popularity with a younger audience.
According to figures from pharmaceutical company Viatris seen by The Independent this week, more than 60% of Britons using it are between 25-54 years old.
Reports suggest the ‘little blue pill’ is becoming increasingly popular with younger individuals in their twenties and thirties
The publication added that Viagra Connect sold more than seven million tablets in the UK from May 2020 to May 2021.
An online pharmacist also told the outlet: ‘Of our erectile dysfunction custom base, nine per cent are in their twenties and 21 per cent are in their thirties.’
Reports in recent years have seen professional say they have seen individuals as young as 16 express interest in the drug.
Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2020, a specialist nurse from the Sexual Advice Association said: ‘I have been in this field for 27 years and 20 per cent of my erectile-dysfunction patients are now aged under 30, compared with two per cent 20 years ago…I’m seeing boys as young as 16, and quite a lot of young men in their 20s.’
But what does Viagra actually do? Who can use it, what are the side effects – and why is it so popular?
Here is everything you need to know about the drug.
Viagra was originally cooked up by Covid vaccine manufacturer Pfizer in 1989, with hopes that sildenafil citrate could treat high blood pressure
WHAT IS VIAGRA?
Most men occasionally struggle to get or keep an erection due to stress, tiredness, anxiety or drinking too much alcohol.
But up to one in five men in the UK (4.3million) suffer erectile dysfunction – when this keeps happening.
It can be caused by high blood pressure or cholesterol, hormone problems or side effects from medication.
Medicines containing sildenafil, originally developed to treat angina, are often used to treat the condition. It expands blood vessels and boosts blood flow to the genitals.
Viagra was originally cooked up by Covid vaccine manufacturer Pfizer in 1989, with hopes that sildenafil citrate could treat high blood pressure.
But clinical trials in Wales a few years later saw men report an unusual side effect —they got more erections while taking the medication.
The drug was approved in the US and EU in 1998, branded as Viagra, and became one of the fastest selling drugs of all time.
The drug was approved in the US and EU in 1998, branded as Viagra, and became one of the fastest selling drugs of all time
WHERE CAN YOU GET IT?
Non-branded sildenafil can be available from the NHS, to treat erectile dysfunction or pulmonary hypertension.
Branded versions – like Viagra – may only be given in exceptional circumstances. You may also get the drug via private prescription but the pills are also available over the counter.
Just this summer Boots has started selling its own-brand Viagra, in a move hailed by doctors amid the cost of living crisis.
The chemist now offers a four-pack of impotence pills for £14.99 — £5 cheaper than the original version.
The rise and rise of Viagra
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer cooks up a compound called sildenafil citrate which it hopes will treat high blood pressure.
When it is trialled in Wales, one tester mentions that he got more erections while on it. The others say, ‘So did we!’ It’s a breakthrough moment.
The drug – now branded Viagra – is approved in the US as the first pharmaceutical product ever for erectile dysfunction. It quickly becomes one of the fastest-selling drugs of all time, with 10,000 prescriptions being issued a day.
Viagra gets its European licence. From July 1999, the NHS starts prescribing Viagra to men with underlying conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or prostate cancer – but Viagra is more widely available by private prescription or from foreign suppliers on the internet.
In Sex and the City, man-eater Samantha dates a wealthy older man who pops the blue pills. Viagra later stars in Ally McBeal and Law & Order.
The UK’s first ‘Viagra divorce’ is granted when a middle-aged woman claims the drug made her husband ‘sexually aggressive’.
In England, 1,838,687 prescription items for erectile dysfunction are dispensed.
Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas says he’s glad his wife likes older men and praises the drug: ‘Some wonderful enhancements have happened in the last few years – Viagra, Cialis – that can make us all feel younger.’ It also gets its own movie: Love & Other Drugs with Jake Gyllenhaal playing a Viagra salesman.
Michael Douglas praises Viagra for ‘making us all feel younger’. ‘God bless her that she likes older guys,’ he says of his wife, the actress Catherine Zeta Jones. ‘And some wonderful enhancements have happened in the last few years – Viagra, Cialis – that can make us all feel younger.’
Viagra’s European patent expires, so with the unbranded drug sildenafil available at a 93 per cent price drop, the NHS allows prescriptions for a wider range of cases of male impotence.
The number of prescription items dispensed for erectile dysfunction has risen to 4,223,282.
Viagra becomes legally available to men over 18 via pharmacy websites and over the counter as Viagra Connect.
Online health company Zava admits to stockpiling one million Viagra pills in case Brexit disrupts medical supplies.
It also available online. However, the NHS website warns: ‘Be very careful if you do this as many websites sell fake medicines’.
It adds: [Online medicines are not always regulated and the ingredients in them can vary from one pack to another. They can cause unpleasant side effects or may not be suitable for you.
‘It’s best to see your doctor before buying medicines online. They know your medical history and can discuss whether you might benefit from treatment.’
WHO CAN USE IT?
Most men over 18 may take sildenafil to treat erectile dysfunction, but adults and children (one year old and over) may also take the drug for pulmonary hypertension.
However the NHS advises that it is not suitable for everyone, including individuals with serious heart or liver problems, recent stroke or heart attack victims and people with low blood pressure.
See the full list here.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS?
Common side effects may include headaches, hot flushes, nausea, indigestion, dizziness and a stuffy nose.
More serious possible side effects are painful erections (especially if they last for more than two hours), seizures and chest pain.
An allergic reaction is also possible, alongside any listed in the leaflet which comes with your medicine.
WHY ARE MORE MEN RESORTING TO VIAGRA?
Many of the new generation of teenage and young adult Viagra users are otherwise physically fit, who use it as a prop to ensure sexual performance.
However in recent years doctors are warning that others may be suffering sexual difficulties and impotence caused by obesity and obesity-related type 2 diabetes.
This is a problem previously seen only in much older patients, and it’s causing concern, Ian Eardley, a professor of urology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, told the Daily Mail in 2020.
However, there are multiple reasons why young men may be affected by problems in the bedroom, including the rising use of pornography, binge drinking and drug- taking, as these mean they need more stimulation to make anything happen.
Doctors are now increasingly aware that erectile dysfunction (ED) might be a sign of underlying disease — and fear that young men may be self-prescribing Viagra. As a result, the real cause of their issues remains untreated, despite it being treatable.
‘There’s no doubt that type 2 diabetes causes it and a 30-year-old diabetic is at least twice or three times as likely as a non-diabetic to suffer from erectile dysfunction,’ Professor Eardley said.
Elsewhere this April, Canadian experts found regularly taking the common erectile dysfunction pill Viagra may raise the risk of three serious eye conditions.
Three other impotence medicines – Cialis, Levitra and Spedra – were also named as being potential triggers of eye problems.
They found the medications may cause sudden losses of vision, flashes of light and dark spots or ‘floaters’ in those who take them.
Increasing blood flow to the genitals with the pills could be hindering its supply to the eyes, which the experts suggested may be to blame.
Lead researcher Dr Mahyar Etminan, an ophthalmologist at the University of British Columbia, said people using the drugs who develop vision problems should ‘seek medical attention’.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU TOOK TOO MUCH?
Viagra has a range of different side effects which range in severity. According to Medical Daily, too much of the drug may result in a painful, ‘uncomfortably and disproportionately large erection’ called a priapism which could go on for hours.
According to the NHS site, if not treated promptly, this could cause permanent damage to the penis.
It recommends seeking medical help if the erection lasts more than two hours. At the hospital, the patient could be treated with ‘tablets or injections directly into your penis’ or blood could be drained from the area via a needle or surgery.
NHS guidance also says that a priapism ‘may get better on its own within two hours’ and suggests there are things you can do to try and reduce the erection.
Going for a pee, having a warm bath or shower, drinking lots of water, going for a gentle walk, doing some exercises or taking painkillers such as paracetamol (if needed) are recommended.
The NHS site says you should NOT apply ice packs or cold water to the area, have sex or masturbate, drink alcohol or smoke.
BUT THERE CAN BE POSITIVE SIDE EFFECTS
Taking Viagra could cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, scientists say.
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in the US examined the medical data of 7million Americans in their 70s, tracking them for six years.
Results showed adults who took sildenafil, the main ingredient in the little blue pill, were 69 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to people who didn’t use the medication.
Sildenafil, also used to treat high blood pressure, appeared to perform better than two drugs currently being used in human trials against Alzheimer’s.
Lead researcher Dr Feixiong Cheng admitted clinical trials are needed to confirm whether the impotence drug can truly ward off the disease.
But separate laboratory projects showed it can increase brain cell growth and stop harmful proteins building up in the brain.
HOW LONG DOES VIAGRA LAST FOR?
According to Healthline, Viagra on average lasts between two to three hours, depending on several factors including dosage, age, and overall health.
It can last for up to five hours, and a person may be able to get an erection more than once during this period.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU TAKE VIAGRA?
Those taking sildenafil for erectile dysfunction may be able to get tablets in different doses ranging from 25 – 100mg.
According to the NHS, the usual dose is 50mg – when you need it – no more than once a day.
The site says to take it up to four hours before having sex. The dosage information for Pfizer’s Viagra says: ‘For most patients, the recommended dose is 50 mg taken, as needed, approximately 1 hour before sexual activity.
‘However, VIAGRA may be taken anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours before sexual activity…
‘Based on effectiveness and toleration, may increase to a maximum of 100 mg or decrease to 25 mg…
‘Maximum recommended dosing frequency is once per day.’