Generic Viagra: Options, Side Effects, and Where to Get It

Viagra, the brand name of the drug sildenafil, is now sold as a generic drug by many manufacturers around the world. Sildenafil is essentially the same medication as Viagra, which was the first major erectile dysfunction (ED) medication on the market and is made by Pfizer.

Generic Viagra hasn’t been around very long. Though Pfizer’s patent on the popular ED medication ran out in 2020, Pfizer started making and selling generic sildenafil in 2017. Once other companies could legally sell their own sildenafil tablets in 2020, the options for consumers quickly expanded.

What is generic Viagra?

Sildenafil, often still referred to as “generic Viagra,” is the active ingredient in Viagra. Viagra also contains small amounts of inactive ingredients that mainly serve to give the pills form and make it easier for the body to metabolize them.

The full name of the medication is sildenafil citrate. It helps treat ED by increasing blood flow to the penis to help get and sustain an erection.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer discovered the erectile dysfunction benefits of sildenafil by accident.

Researchers were testing the medication to treat high blood pressure and angina — chest pain associated with heart disease. They found that the medication was especially effective at inducing erections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Viagra in 1998, making it the first oral drug specifically prescribed for erectile dysfunction.

Pfizer was also the first to introduce generic Viagra through a subsidiary called Greenstone. Other companies around the world also manufacture sildenafil pills, including:

  • Teva Pharmaceuticals
  • Aurobindo
  • Cambia
  • Mylan
  • Bristol Labs

Sildenafil is best known as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, the inability to get or keep an erection. Sildenafil is meant to be taken before having sex, with the understanding that its effects last only a few hours.

Sildenafil is also approved for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension (PH) — elevated blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs and in the right side of the heart. Revatio is the brand name of sildenafil prescribed for PH.

Generic sildenafil is always sold as sildenafil. There are currently no other brand names for the drug, aside from Viagra and Revatio.

In the United States, sildenafil for ED or PH requires a prescription. The United Kingdom allows for over-the-counter sales of the drug, in part to discourage the market for fake sildenafil. Sildenafil is one of the most commonly counterfeited drugs in the world.

Instead of “the little blue pill,” as Viagra is known, sildenafil is often sold as a little white pill by Pfizer’s competitors. The appearance of the pill doesn’t change its effectiveness or how it works in the body.

While generic sildenafil and Viagra are equally safe and effective, the medications have one key difference: cost. Viagra costs around $60 to $70 per tablet. Generic sildenafil can range from under $1 to up to $10 per pill, depending on the manufacturer and dose.

Sildenafil doesn’t cure ED. It treats ED symptoms. Likewise, sildenafil doesn’t cure PH. It just helps control blood pressure in the arteries in the lungs.

Sildenafil is in a class of medications called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors. These drugs restrict the action of phosphodiesterase enzymes, which break down cyclic guanosine monophosphate. This is a type of molecule that relaxes smooth muscle tissue in the body, such as those in the blood vessels that allow the penis to become erect. Taking sildenafil improves circulation by helping the arteries relax enough to fill more easily with blood.

Sildenafil is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, reaching maximum concentration in about 1 hour for most users. Generic Viagra, like other PDE5 inhibitors, can cause a drop in blood pressure. If you take medications for blood pressure control or tend to have low blood pressure, ask your doctor if it’s safe to use sildenafil.

Sildenafil doesn’t trigger an erection on its own, nor does it increase sexual desire. Sexual stimulation is still required. However, for most healthy people, sildenafil can make an erection easier to get.

A 4-year study published in 2007 found that sildenafil is generally safe to use over the long term. Other data pulled from clinical trials in 2016 noted that sildenafil is effective without severe side effects regardless of age.

Generic Viagra (sildenafil) is available as a 25-milligram (mg), 50-mg, and 100-mg tablet. The 50-mg dose is standard, though your doctor may start you on a 25-mg dose to see if that is sufficient.

Generic Revatio (sildenafil) is available as a 20-mg tablet.

For ED, take sildenafil on an as-needed basis, ideally 1 hour before intercourse. However, it may be effective as soon as 30 minutes before intercourse and may still be effective 3 or 4 hours later.

After 4 hours, the effects of sildenafil tend to wear off. It’s recommended that you take sildenafil no more than once daily.

Sildenafil prescribed for PH is available as a 5-mg and 20-mg pill and in liquid form. It’s usually taken 3 times per day.

Avoiding fake Viagra

Viagra and other ED medications are some of the most counterfeited drugs out there. It’s important to speak with a doctor to seek treatment and obtain medications through a pharmacy.

Sildenafil is available at most retail pharmacy locations and several reputable online retailers, so there’s no need to buy sildenafil from companies not regulated by the FDA.