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Viagra may help to treat altitude sickness

A recent French study has proposed a new benefit of Viagra. Apart from its use as an erectile dysfunction drug, it was found to be beneficial for the treatment of pulmonary diseases occurring at high altitudes. The effectiveness of the drug for the treatment of altitude sickness had long been debated in the scientific community. It has been used by athletes to enhance their performance at higher altitudes for a long time.

The use of Viagra as a drug to cure high altitude sickness came into international media attention when the South Korean President Park Guen-Hye bought 364 pills of Viagra. Mountaineer Andrew Lock, in an interview with CNN, said that he came to know about the use of Viagra for pulmonary edema about 10 years ago and that he too has carried it for the same purpose. Pulmonary edema is caused due to the accumulation of excessive fluids in the lungs, which makes it difficult to breathe at higher altitudes. Pulmonary edema can result in a respiratory failure or a fatal deprivation of oxygen supply.

At higher altitudes the problem arises due to the narrowing of the veins that carry blood because of low oxygen. The higher the altitude the more blood vessels become narrower. Constriction of blood vessels in the lungs puts more pressure on the heart in order to remove blood adequately from the cardiovascular system, which results in life threatening heart failure. Blood vessels in the lungs begin to leak fluids and causing a buildup of the fluids in the lungs interrupting normal oxygen flow if left untreated.

Revatio which also contains sildenafil citrate, the same active chemical ingredient as Viagra, is prescribed for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Pulmonary arterial hypertension is caused due to the narrowing of blood vessels of the lungs, which makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood through the lungs. Sildenafil citrate can dilate the blood vessels which makes it useful for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Researchers have successfully used sildenafil citrate to counter the effects of high altitude on blood vessels of the lungs. Viagra assists the lungs to receive oxygen while at a higher altitudes. A recent research involving 12 men at 4,350 meters above the sea level has established that Viagra worked better than placebo to protect men from pulmonary diseases. This research was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Jean-Paul, MD, Ph.D., lead a research in order to study the effects of Viagra for the treatment of high altitude sickness pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema has a mortality rate of 44% if not treated. At the start of the study, the men had their vital statistics measured at the sea level. During the course of the study the men had to undertake different physical activities at different heights. Half of the men received Viagra and half of them received placebos. The Viagra group received 40 mg of the drug thrice a day starting from the day one. Initially, both the groups had difficulty to adjust to their new environment and suffered from acute mountain sickness until day four. Their blood pressure rose by 29% compared to their blood pressure at sea level. Both the groups suffered from dizziness and stomach problems equally. But the Viagra group’s blood pressure began to normalize in one or two days and by the sixth day, it was 6% lower than before the experiment. And for the placebo group, the blood pressure remained comparatively higher averaging at about 21% higher than the normal.

Sildenafil citrate has no measurable effects on cardiovascular function at sea level but it improved the cardiovascular function at higher altitudes. The results were published in 2006 issue of Journal of Applied Physiology.

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