Harvard Heart Letter

Viagra and Cialis for heart failure?

Erectile dysfunction drugs may do what no others have done.

Sildenafil (Viagra) treats erectile dysfunction (ED) by blocking (or inhibiting) an enzyme called PDE5. This relaxes arteries that send blood to the penis, causing it to enlarge. Viagra and similar ED drugs also relax the arteries of the heart. Now there is evidence that PDE5 inhibition may be an effective treatment for heart failure (HF). Harvard researchers have shown that Viagra can improve exercise capacity in people with this chronic disease. In May, the researchers received a $26.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether the PDE5 inhibitor Cialis can extend length of life in people with heart failure and reduce heart failure-related hospitalizations.

As medical director of the Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Marc Semigran is always on the lookout for better treatments for HF. When Viagra came on the market in 1997, he immediately saw its potential to lower lung pressures in pulmonary hypertension, a condition affecting about three-fourths of people with left-sided HF.

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