-- Randy Dotinga
TUESDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that
the active ingredient in the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra,
which was initially developed as a treatment for heart disease,
could help children with a rare condition called pulmonary arterial
The drug, which is expensive to take regularly and has side
effects, is already approved to treat the condition in adults. And
some pediatricians use it to treat children, said Dr. Thomas Kulik,
senior associate in cardiology at Children's Hospital Boston. But
it has not yet received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval
for that purpose.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare condition, causes
abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries that lead to the
lungs. It can be inherited, accompany some forms of heart disease
or occur for no known reason, Kulik said. The disease can limit the
ability to exercise and lead to heart failure or even death.
In adults, research has shown that sildenafil -- best known by
the brand name Viagra -- can help improve oxygen delivery and
exercise tolerance, but it's not clear if it improves lifespan,
said Kulik, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at
Harvard Medical School in Boston.
In the new study, researchers gave a placebo or low, medium or
high doses of sildenafil to children aged 1 to 17 years for 16
weeks. After that time, they tested 105 of the children.
Previously, study author Dr. Robyn Barst of Columbia University
in New York City led research that found that the active ingredient
in another erectile drug, Cialis (tadalafil), seemed to effectively
treat pulmonary hypertension in adults.
In the new study, researchers found that that children who took
the drug and could exercise at the end of the study had more
improvement in lung function than those who took the placebo. The
researchers, including two from Pfizer, manufacturer of Viagra,
also found that the children could exercise more and with greater
Kulik, who is familiar with the findings but was not involved
with the study, said the effect was modest at best. Still, he said,
"sildenafil probably somewhat increases the ability of pediatric
patients to exercise."
In adults, he said, the drug can cause vision problems, and in
kids it can cause a condition called priapism, in which the penis
remains erect. Lowering the dose can eliminate the problem, he
Overall, a medium dose appears safest and most effective, the
researchers said, but still more research is needed. Kulik said it
will take some time to determine if it improves lifespan for
children with the condition.
The drug can cost several thousand dollars a year, he said.
The study was scheduled to be released Tuesday at the American
College of Chest Physicians annual meeting, in Honolulu.
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
To learn more about pulmonary arterial hypertension, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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