For many women, monthly menstrual cramps can stop them in their tracks, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness. But according to researchers from Penn State College of Medicines, a common drug used to treat erectile dysfunction in men could provide some relief.
In a recent study published in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers, led by Dr. Richard Legro, studied the effects of sildenafil citrate - commercially known as Viagra - on women with primary dysmenorrhea (PD).
According to the team, PD is the most common reason for pelvic pain in women. Although it is painful and disruptive, it is not due to other diseases.
Anti-inflammatory drugs - including ibuprofen - are the most widely used treatment for pain relief of menstrual cramps, but the researchers say it does not work for all women, and is associated with ulcers and kidney damage when used repeatedly.
Erectile dysfunction drugs have previously shown an improvement in pelvic pain when taken orally, the researchers note, but this can often result in headaches, which they say makes it largely unsuitable for chronic use.
As a result, the researchers from this latest study assessed the results of using sildenafil citrate vaginally, which they say had not yet been tried to alleviate PD.
Larger studies needed to confirm results
Little blue pill: women who took a drug that is used to treat erectile dysfunction in men experienced relief from their menstrual pain.
To conduct their research, the investigators randomized 25 women between the ages of 18 and 35 to use either sildenafil or a placebo drug.
Working with researchers at Nova Gradiska General Hospital in Croatia, the team from Penn State collected data on how the participants rated their pain during a 4-hour period.
After 2 hours, the researchers observed that uterine artery pulsatility index was "significantly lower" in the group taking sildenafil citrate, compared with those in the placebo group.
More importantly, the patients in the sildenafil group experienced alleviated menstrual pain, and there were no reported side effects.
Although the researchers thought the drug would soothe pain by increasing blood flow, they observed that both sildenafil and the placebo increased uterine blood flow, so they say they do not yet understand why the drug alleviates pain.
Dr. Legro, who is also professor of obstetrics and gynecology and public health sciences at Penn State, says:
"If future studies confirm these findings, sildenafil may become a treatment option for patients with PD. Since PD is a condition that most women suffer from and seek treatment for at some points in their lives, the quest for new medication is justified."
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, but the authors note that they did not meet their sample size due to loss of funding.
As a result, they say larger, multi-center studies must be completed in order to confirm the findings of their study.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study from the University of Rochester that linked menstrual cycles to poorer recovery from head injuries.