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Viagra's side-effects may damage fertility

1 April 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 252

Viagra, the 'wonder-drug' promoted for its ability to relieve impotence in men, may have some unwanted side-effects. Research presented today in Cheltenham, UK, at the annual meeting of the British Fertility Society, suggests that men who are taking Viagra when trying to start a family may actually be decreasing their ability to father a child. However, Viagra manufacturers Pfizer deny that the drug causes fertility problems.

Viagra was designed to enable an increase of blood flow to the penis to overcome impotence problems. However, since its release it has increasingly been used 'recreationally', and is also used by fertility clinics in order to aid patients' semen production. Viagra is what is known as a 'phosphodiesterase inhibitor', a type of chemical known to affect sperm function, so the study looked at what effect the drug has on sperm. The researchers discovered that using Viagra speeds up chemical changes within sperm, rendering them infertile by the time they reach an egg. This chemical change, known as the acrosome reaction, normally only occurs when a sperm reaches an egg, and is when sperm release enzymes that break down the outer layer of the egg allowing the sperm head to penetrate it more easily. However, if the acrosome reaction occurs too early, the sperm become ineffective and unable to enter the egg, as they have no digestive enzymes left.

Scientists from the School of Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Queen's University, Belfast, took 45 semen samples and split them into two groups. Half of the samples were treated with Viagra, while the other half was used as control. The research team found that while Viagra increased sperm motility, up to 79 per cent more sperm in the Viagra-treated samples had clearly undergone premature acrosome reactions. These findings lead the researchers to say they had 'significant concerns for Viagra use in assisted reproduction'. They added that the findings echo previous studies in mice that showed that the presence of Viagra meant that fewer eggs would be fertilised and fewer resulting embryos developed normally.

Dr Sheena Lewis, a member of the team, said that their 'message is that caution should be taken when using recreational drugs if you are hoping to start a family'. But a representative of the European Society for Sexual Medicine, Dr John Dean, said it was important that the study wasn't reported in an alarmist fashion, adding that sperm is highly sensitive in laboratory conditions. 'Childless couples - and the general population - should be aware that in the five years that Viagra has been around no overall detrimental effect on fertility has been observed', he said.

However, Pfizer says that there has been no evidence of Viagra affecting fertility following its use by 23 million men over six years. 'It's one study and it was in a test tube basically, not in real people', said spokesman David Watts.

Pfizer says Viagra does not decrease fertility
Reuters |  2 April 2004
Report claims viagra could harm fertility
The Scotsman |  1 April 2004
Viagra could reduce men's fertility
New Scientist |  31 March 2004
Viagra use 'may damage fertility'
BBC News Online |  31 March 2004
28 June 2004 - by BioNews 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Berlin: Using a mobile phone and taking the anti-impotence drug Viagra may both affect a man's fertility, according to a report in the Sunday Times. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Szeged in Hungary found a link between 'heavy use' of...
30 October 2000 - by BioNews 
Ten UK women are reported to be pregnant following treatment with the male impotence drug Viagra, prescribed by their consultant Dr Mohammed Taranissi. But fertility expert Lord Robert Winston has expressed concerns over what he called a 'reprehensible and dangerous' treatment. 'It is extraordinary that he has been allowed to...
15 May 2000 - by BioNews 
A UK woman has become pregnant after taking the anti-impotence drug Viagra during fertility treatment, her doctor announced last week. Dr Mohammed Taranissi, head of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre, London, said his patient had been trying to get pregnant for six years, and had undergone two unsuccessful in...
10 April 2000 - by BioNews 
A team of US researchers has shown that Viagra, the anti-impotence drug, may help some women overcome their fertility problems. Geoffry Sher, of the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine, Las Vegas, gave the drug to four women who had failed to become pregnant following at least three in vitro fertilisation...
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