What you need to know before you take erectile dysfunction medication

You can now buy erectile dysfunction (ED) medication over the counter at pharmacies. However, some men would be better off seeing their GP first as dosage and treatment options may need adjusting, and persistent ED can be an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

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Authored by Sally Turner ·
Reviewed by Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE
08-Jul-19 · 6 mins read

Erectile dysfunction (ED), sometimes known as impotence, is a common issue that increases with age, and is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain a penile erection for sexual activity.

Men of all ages are likely to experience ED at some point, often as a result of stress, exhaustion, or anxiety, but the issue usually resolves once these causal factors are addressed. However, ED can have other causes, some of them associated with the ageing process, which have serious health implications.

Viagra is the Pfizer brand name for the generic ED drug sildenafil, which is now off-patent and produced by various pharmaceutical companies. According to NHS figures, prescriptions for it and other ED medications have tripled in the past decade, and earlier this year Pfizer announced that Viagra Connect would be available to buy without a prescription at pharmacies. But here’s what you need to know before you purchase:

Worried about erectile dysfunction?

Book a consultation with a local pharmacist today via Patient Access and discuss treatment options.

ED could be an early warning sign

ED is now widely recognised as an early marker for the onset of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in midlife, and erection difficulties can also be a first symptom of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Dr Douglas Savage, a GP specialising in sexual medicine, and senior medical consultant at the Centre for Men’s Health, is keen to highlight this issue.

“From the age of 40 onwards, the key message is that if you have ED you need to get your cholesterol level, blood pressure and blood sugar checked by your GP to assess whether you are at risk from type 2 diabetes or CVD,” he says. “Get assessed before you buy ED drugs like Viagra to use as a quick fix.”

Those at risk can then take appropriate action to address both the ED and other health issues in combination.

Pharmacists selling ED drugs are trained to highlight the link between ED and other health conditions to customers before purchase. However, some GPs have reservations about the new approach.

“It would be a tragedy if someone wanted to take the shortcut and buy unregulated pills online, or licensed drugs from a high street chemist, and other serious health issues were then missed,” warns Savage.

Dr Sarah Jarvis isn’t concerned about pharmacists’ expertise, but does worry that some men may not heed their pharmacist’s warnings.

“In my experience, pharmacists are extremely good at picking up possible underlying problems – possibly better than an overworked GP trying to deal with erectile dysfunction as the fourth problem the patient wants help with in a single 10-minute appointment. My only concern is that patients may not act on their pharmacist’s advice to get checked out by their GP.”

It’s also worth noting that over the past five years, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has seized in excess of £350m worth of counterfeit and unlicensed ED drugs.

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