News Release

November 22, 2004

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

Recognizing National Pulmonary Hypertension Month

Will Viagra Be the New Treatment?

FARMINGTON, CONN. – There’s some potentially good news for patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension, and it seems appropriate that it comes in November during National Pulmonary Hypertension Month.

Originally marketed to treat erectile dysfunction in men, the newer drug called sildenafil, also known as Viagra, may be beneficial in treating PAH patients, according to data recently presented at the American College of Chest Physicians annual meeting in Seattle.

UConn Health Center PAH specialist Raymond Foley, D.O., said that Viagra is used to open up blood vessels, and its use for treating PAH shows promise. “This was a Stage III clinical trial, but further testing is needed before Viagra’s use for PAH could be approved.” PAH patients on Viagra fared better than the placebo group in a six-minute walk test, according to a study by Pfizer, Inc., which manufactures the drug.

Its cause is unknown and there is no cure for PAH, explained Dr. Foley, who heads up the PAH program at UConn Health Center, the only site in Connecticut offering comprehensive services for the disorder, but there are approved treatments that can improve symptoms, quality of life and survival. Dr. Foley said these treatments include oral medication, and for some patients, medication delivered through a catheter. In the severest cases, lung transplantation may be considered. Exercise is sometimes recommended when appropriate, and patients are encouraged to participate in pulmonary rehabilitation programs and attend local pulmonary hypertension support group meetings.

PAH is a life-threatening medical disorder that is difficult to diagnose and rarely recognized in routine medical examinations. Dr. Foley, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Health Center, offers some facts about the mysterious disorder.

  • PAH often occurs along with other disorders, such as scleroderma, cirrhosis, pulmonary embolism, HIV, and congenital heart disease.
  • Blood vessels have to be flexible. For those with the disorder, the vessels have stiffened and are less flexible, making it more difficult to pump additional blood through the lungs.
  • In a healthy individual, the body adapts to an increased need for oxygen by increasing the heart rate and therefore the amount of blood flowing through the lungs. For those with PAH, the heart cannot adapt, and a simple exercise, such as walking, becomes a challenge.
  • Common symptoms of PAH include a breathless feeling, dizziness, fainting, chest pain, palpitations and fatigue that can happen during rest, or more commonly, while simply moving about.

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