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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 00:20 GMT
Viagra: 'No increased heart attack risk'
Taking the anti-impotence drug Viagra will not put you at an increased risk of a fatal heart attack, say scientists.
Researchers from Southampton said the drug had passed initial safety tests, but called for further research.
The news has been welcomed by men's groups who said it would provide much needed reassurance for impotence sufferers.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), showed no evidence of a higher risk of either fatal heart attack or ischaemic heart disease after taking the distinctive little blue pill.
Around 300,000 NHS prescriptions for Viagra, which is made by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, are handed out each year.
As many as one in 10 men are thought to have a problem with impotence.
For men like these, Viagra was the best hope. The first oral treatment for impotence, Viagra is now sold world wide.
Since it was launched in the UK in 1998 there have been reports of 60 men dying from heart related problems after taking the drug.
The drug's use is currently restricted by the NHS and doctors are told not to prescribe Viagra for men taking nitrate drugs for heart conditions because it works in the same way and lowers their blood pressure.
Southampton scientists sent questionnaires to GPs about the experiences of more than 5,000 men who had taken Viagra.
After analysing the data they found only 10 men had died - six had suffered heart attacks and four died following ischaemic heart disease.
Report author Saad Shakir, director of the Drug Safety Research Unit, Southampton, said: "Though our results are reassuring it is inappropriate to accept these comparisons as definitive evidence."
Peter Barker, co-ordinator of the Men's Health Forum, said they hoped the news would encourage more men to go to their doctors for help about impotence.
He said: "It is obviously good news because it is now one of the leading treatments for impotence and anything that can reassure men is likely to get them to go to the doctor and get treatment for any underlying causes."
Mr Barker said he hoped the research would encourage the government to relax restrictions on who can and cannot be prescribed the drug.
John Pryor, chairman of the Impotence Association, said: "It is obviously good news for sufferers and confirms how safe Viagra is in general terms."