While medication for erectile dysfunction (ED) is effective for many men, scientists have been investigating whether it might benefit women.
In August 2013, researchers from Croatia and the United States published research on this topic in the journal Human Reproduction. They suggested that sildenafil (sold under the brand name Viagra) could help relieve pain for women with moderate to severe menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhea).
Primary dysmenorrhea usually occurs at the beginning of a woman’s menstrual period, but it is not related to any specific problems with her reproductive organs.
Viagra has been used to treat sexual dysfunction in women before. However, studies have had limited results. Also, these results did not give much information on the positive or negative effects of the drug on menstrual irregularities.
Other research has shown that taking sildenafil in pill form can relieve pain for women suffering from menstrual cramps. However, many women had side effects from the medication. Headaches were the most common. Scientists decided that the rate of side effects was too high to recommend this approach.
For the 2013 study, sildenafil was administered vaginally. The researchers thought that fewer women would have side effects if the medication was administered closer to the source of the pain.
Twenty-five menstruating women between the ages of 18 and 35 participated in the study. They were divided into two groups. One group took sildenafil administered vaginally. The other received a placebo, also administered vaginally.
Menstrual pain was assessed at the start of the study and at one hour intervals until four hours had passed.
The women who took sildenafil had significant pain relief when compared to the women who took the placebo.
The researchers weren’t sure exactly why the sildenafil group had better results. In men, sildenafil helps with erections because it increases blood flow to the penis. The scientists thought this increased blood flow could help women, too. However, they found that both the sildenafil and the placebo increased blood flow.
Does this mean sildenafil can be prescribed for women with menstrual cramps? Not yet. Larger studies are needed to confirm these results. Also, scientists need to determine whether sildenafil changes the menstrual bleeding pattern.