Can Viagra Make You Blind?

Over the past year, the market for the leading sexual dysfunction drugs -- Viagra, Cialis and Levitra -- may have finally peaked. Although 2004 numbers flattened for that trio to a mere $1.2 billion, I suspect 2005 sales may take another dive, based on news from University of Minnesota ophthalmologists who have identified a condition that caused permanent blindness in a small group of males who have taken Viagra.

Nonarteritic ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), described as stroke of the eye, occurs when blood flow is cut off to the optic nerve, which injures the nerve and results in permanent vision loss. Scientists identified seven patients, ages 50-69, with the typical features of NAION within 36 hours after taking Viagra for erectile dysfunction, and that's in addition to an equal number of cases that have been previously reported.

Each patient who suffered from blindness as a result of Viagra had two important commonalities. For one, all had at least one arteriosclerotic risk factor:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Hyperlipidemia

All of the patients also had a low cup to disk ratio, the method in which doctors measure the small circular indentation where the optic nerve connects to the eyeball. A low ratio means the blood vessels and nerves are tightly bundled together into the small space in the back of the eye. Because Viagra regulates the constriction of the body's arteries, this condition may cut blood flow to the optic nerve, particularly in those with low cup to disk ratios where blood vessels are already tightly packed and cause blindness.

That's certainly, a far cry from somewhat less serious side effects of Viagra, including blue/green color blindness, headaches and flushing.

Just more proof, these alternative treatments -- none of which include taking a drug -- are far safer and less expensive.

Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology, March 2005, Vol. 25, Issue 1: 9-13

EurekAlert March 30, 2005

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