"You Should Never Buy Viagra Without a Prescription. Here's Why"

Back in 1998, guys having problems in the bedroom received a gift that nearly saved their lives—or, at least, their sex lives. That’s when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Viagra as the first oral drug to treat erectile dysfunction.

Since then, it’s only been available with a doctor’s prescription. But now, thanks to a new labeling change by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), men in the UK will soon be able to purchase Viagra at pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription.

The organization announced that Viagra Connect (which contains 50 milligrams of sildenafil, the active ingredient in the drug) will be classified as a pharmacy medicine, meaning men over 18 with erectile dysfunction will be able to buy it over the counter (Viagra will also remain available as a prescription in 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg tablets).

“Erectile dysfunction can be a debilitating condition, so it’s important men feel they have fast access to quality and legitimate care, and do not feel they need to turn to counterfeit online supplies, which could have potentially serious side effects,” Mick Foy, MHRA’s group manager in vigilance and risk management of medicines, said in a statement. (Here’s why you should never take “herbal Viagra.”)

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Now, it’s important to note that the drugs won’t be sold blindly over-the-counter—Viagra Connect will be sold after a discussion with the pharmacist to make sure you’re a good candidate for the drug. Guys with pre-existing conditions like severe heart disease (or who are at high heart risk), who have liver or kidney failure, or who are taking other meds that may interact with Viagra won’t be sold the drug over-the-counter. Based on the discussion, the pharmacist will also determine whether further consultation with your doctor is necessary.

That’s because like any drug, Viagra can come with side effects—and in certain guys, they can be extremely serious.

First, think of how Viagra works in the first place. The drug relaxes your blood vessels, helping blood to flow into your penis to make you erect when you’re aroused. But Viagra also relaxes blood vessels throughout your entire body as well, as Philip Werthman, M.D., director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal in Los Angeles explained to us in the past.

That can lead to a dangerously low drop in blood pressure, he said. As a result, you can pass out, and if your blood pressure is low enough to deprive your brain of oxygen for even four to five minutes, you could die.

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Guys who are older and those who take other meds, like nitrates for chest pain, are at greatest risk of these serious side effects of Viagra. That’s why doctors usually won’t prescribe Viagra to guys with these risks, and if they do, they monitor their dosages carefully and look for potential side effects throughout the course of treatment, as we reported.

Even though U.K. pharmacists will have a discussion with guys before selling the meds, there's still an another important factor that might be missed: Erectile dysfunction is often a symptom for other serious health conditions.

In fact, erectile dysfunction could be a marker for silent heart disease, according to 2013 research from the U.K. ED could surface three to five years before a heart attack or stroke occurs. That’s because the arteries in your penis are smaller than those in your heart—1 to 2 millimeters compared to 3 to 4 millimeters in diameter, according to the research. So the ones below your belt can clog up with plaque sooner, leading to below-the-belt effects before issues with your heart become apparent.

That’s one of the benefits of bringing up any erectile problems with your doctor—it might raise the red flag that something else might be brewing in your body that needs to be checked out, too. Your doctor can run tests to make sure your heart is healthy, and if something’s amiss, he or she can provide the appropriate treatment.

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There’s no word on whether the U.S. is looking into the possibility of bringing Viagra over-the-counter as well, though startups like Hims are looking at offering generic Viagra through online consultations and diagnoses. Still, lots of telehealth companies won't prescribe non-therapeutic meds like Viagra, so see your doctor if any bedroom blips show up in the meantime. It could be a lifesaver.

This article originally appeared on
www.menshealth.com