Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK


31 Viagra users die

Viagra is not recommended for those taking heart drugs

Thirty-one people have died after taking Viagra in the first year of the anti-impotence drug being available in the UK, doctors have reported.

Viagra cannot be pinned down as the direct cause of the deaths, although the majority of them were related to heart problems.

Some heart drugs are known to interact with Viagra with potentially fatal results, but patients on these treatments should not get the drug.

In total, 25 deaths were associated with heart trouble, two were suicides, three suffered brain haemorrhages and one died following complications during an operation.

The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) confirmed the deaths based on figures it receives from doctors.

Reported problems

Viagra's side effects are well documented and were known of before the drug was launched.

It carries a warning that it should not be used in conjunction with nitrate drugs - used for heart conditions - as combining the drugs could lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

The drug can also affect an enzyme in the retina, causing a temporary blue visual tinge, and has been associated with headaches and stuffy noses.

Overall, the agency received 213 reports of adverse effects associated with the drug during its first 12 months in the UK.

Cause unknown

A spokeswoman stressed that Viagra was not necessarily the cause of the deaths.

"The number of fatalities reported are not unexpected in the patient population, as many patients with erectile dysfunction are likely to have underlying disorders which may pre-dispose them to cardiovascular events," she said.

"It is not certain if these fatalities are due to the drug, a pre-existing medical condition or another cause."

On the whole, she said, Viagra was an effective drug with little risk when used properly.

"The benefits need to be weighed against the risks for each patient," she said.

"There is no reason to withdraw this drug from the UK market."

Routine reporting

Andy Burrowes, marketing manager for Pfizer - the company that makes the drug - said there was no cause for alarm.

Doctors were required to report all adverse effects suffered by patients on a new drug, he said, even if they had nothing to do with the drug.

The death rate among men taking Viagra would be identical to any other group of men with the kind of underlying problems that can cause impotence, he said.

"These kind of reports don't say cause and effect - they are exactly what you would expect to see in this sort of population," he said.

"The fact that they are taking Viagra at the time is just one of those things."

Innappropriate use 'the only danger'

The only possible danger was to those who used the drug inappropriately - perhaps after getting it over the Internet - he said, and advised people with impotence to get proper medical advice.

"If you think you've got this problem, go to the doctor first, because you may not realise you are on nitrate and you might have a reaction if you take Viagra," he said.

"And second, in nine out of 10 cases impotence is caused by something else such as diabetes or kidney disease and you need to go to your GP to have that diagnosed and managed first and foremost."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

21 Jan 99 | Viagra
Viagra risks unproven

16 Jan 99 | Health
Viagra linked to five UK deaths

27 Aug 98 | Viagra
US deaths cloud Viagra's European launch

Internet Links

Medicines Control Agency

Pfizer, manufacturers of Viagra

Impotence World Association

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99