Viagra for Babies?

Viagra Babies

Viagra for babies? It sounds crazy, but it might not be. For some babies with a condition called pulmonary hypertension, Viagra might be a lifesaver. [1] If you Google Viagra for babies you will learn about a Dutch study in which 93 women were given Viagra during pregnancy. The trial was stopped because 11 babies died. [2] What were the researchers thinking? Why would they give Viagra to pregnant women?  To understand the possible benefits of Viagra for babies, you need to start at the beginning.

History of Viagra

Viagra is the brand name for the drug sildenafil. It is the first of a group of erectile dysfunction drugs called PDE5 inhibitor drugs (the other ones are Cialis and Levitra). Sildenafil (Viagra) relaxes smooth muscle. That causes blood vessels to open. Viagra was first studied as a medication to lower blood pressure or relieve angina. The effects were mixed, but one effect was dramatic. Viagra really improved blood flow in the penis. Long story short, the drug was first approved to treat erectile dysfunction in 1998. The rest is history for the little blue pill. [1]

Researchers recognized that improving blood flow could help many other medical conditions. One condition that really needed some help was pulmonary hypertension in adults. This condition causes blood vessels in the lungs to start closing down. It can be deadly, the cause is usually unknown, and it is hard to treat. Clinical trials showed that Viagra helped, and in 2005, Viagra was approved to treat this condition. [1]

Viagra and Pulmonary Hypertension in Babies

Now we come to babies. Some babies are born with pulmonary hypertension. The blood vessels that supply their lungs are too narrow. Babies with this condition have trouble breathing and they do not get enough oxygen. Pulmonary hypertension can happen to premature babies with immature lungs. It can also happen to full-term babies, a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHP). [1,3]

When your baby is in your womb, your placenta does the work of your baby’s lungs, removing carbon dioxide and supplying your baby with oxygen-rich blood. As soon as your baby takes a first breath after birth, the lungs have to open up and go right to work. If the blood vessels that bring blood to your baby’s lungs do not open completely, your baby will have trouble breathing. [1,3]

PPHP is a rare condition. Treatment includes oxygen, assisted breathing, and using a machine to pump oxygen into a baby’s circulation, kind of like the heart lung machine used during open-heart surgery. Many babies do not make it through treatment, so researchers wanted to know if Viagra might help these babies the same way it helps adults with pulmonary hypertension. Although this treatment has not been approved yet, it does show promise and it is being used for some babies with premature lungs and PPHP. [1,3]

Viagra During Pregnancy

Viagra for babies in the womb seemed to be a next logical step for researchers in the Netherlands. Some babies do not grow well in the womb because the mother’s placenta is not supplying enough oxygen. This condition – called placental insufficiency – can be diagnosed early in pregnancy. [2]

Babies with this condition may not make it through pregnancy or they may be growth-restricted and have problems after pregnancy. These is no cure for this problem, so researchers turned to Viagra. If Viagra could open up placental blood vessels, it might help. In the Dutch trial, it all went wrong, with disastrous results. [2]

The Future of Viagra

The Viagra for placental insufficiency debacle shows why so few drugs are considered safe in pregnancy. But researchers are continuing to look for more ways to use Viagra. So far, it is only approved for erectile dysfunction and adult pulmonary hypertension. It could still find safe uses for other conditions in which improving blood flow can help. Active areas of research include Viagra for heart failure, stroke, and even joint disease. [4]

Sources:

  1. Children, Sildenafil in Infants and Children.
  2. Medicalxpress, Dutch halt Viagra in pregnancy trial after 11 babies die.
  3. Merck manual, Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn.
  4. BMC on Medicine, Viagra protects the heart: back to the future love pills.
Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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