Researchers say the drug Viagra, used for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, may also help infants with a condition known as chronic pulmonary hypertension. Chronic pulmonary hypertension causes blood pressure to rise inside the lungs, which can cause heart failure and death. Researchers say there is little that can be done for people with the condition.
Standard treatment for infants with chronic pulmonary hypertension usually involves delivering inhaled nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels in the lungs, but researchers say it is expensive and impractical for long-term use.Researchers say Viagra may target the same chemical pathways nitric oxide does to help relax smooth muscles. They say while nitric oxide increases the amount of the chemical produced, Viagra may keep that chemical around longer.
Doctors used Viagra on two infants with pulmonary hypertension. The drug was given in a small dose, and they were slowly weaned off the nitric oxide. Both infants responded to the treatment.One infant had his pulmonary blood pressure stay low for months. Doctors say the infant's pressure is still about twice the normal range, but he can live with that for perhaps years. Researchers say the other infant continues to struggle, but Viagra seems to be helping.
However, researchers warn Viagra is not without risks. They say if the drug levels are raised too high, general blood pressure can drop, which can be life threatening. Also, the long-term effects of Viagra are not known. However there are studies underway to look at its long-term effect on babies and how safe and effective it is compared with other therapies.