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Viagra for women? Blue pills may help alleviate menstrual cramps

MedicineScienceThe Pennsylvania State UniversityFood and Drug Administration

Viagra may no longer be just for the gentlemen. A new study suggests that those little blue pills may also help women, though not in the way you might think.

Researchers have found that sildenafil citrate, the main ingredient in Viagra, Revatio and other drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction, can also be used to alleviate moderate to severe menstrual cramping in women.

"It seems counterintuitive, but what sildenafil citrate does is dilate blood vessels," said Richard Legro, a gynecologist at Penn State College of Medicine and one of the authors of the study. "It leads to an erection in men, but in women, we think it can be an effective treatment for acute menstrual pain."

That agonizing cramping in the pelvic area that many women experience at the start of their period is known in the scientific world as primary dysmenorrhea. It is caused by the excess production of prostaglandins, a lipid compound that tells your muscles when to relax and contract.

The extra prostaglandins that are produced at the time of menstruation are responsible for abnormal uterine contractions as well as increased sensitivity of pain receptors, the researchers explain in a study published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Legro and his colleagues hypothesized that if the blood vessels around the uterus were dilated, then the increased flow of blood might flush out those pain-causing prostaglandins.

"It's like how a good rain can clear up smog," Legro said.

To test their theory, the researchers ran a small trial in Croatia with 25 volunteers. The women were between the ages of 18 and 35 and all suffered from menstrual cramps. Some of the women were issued a dose of sildenafil citrate vaginally, while others were given a placebo. 

The women who used the sildenafil citrate reported better overall pain relief than those who were given the placebo, although women who used the placebo also experienced significant pain relief, the researchers found. (They note that placebos often provide pain relief in such studies.)

This is just the first study to test the ability of sildenafil citrate to relieve menstrual crams, and more research needs to be done.

Legro and his team have already submitted a grant to study whether administering Viagra orally or vaginally makes a difference, as well as dosing over multiple period cycles.

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