How does Sildenafil help with gastroparesis

Written by the Manual Team · Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry - MD

In 30 seconds…

Sildenafil does not just work as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. Evidence suggests that the active ingredient in Viagra can help gastroparesis too.

Gastroparesis is a condition affecting the muscles of the stomach that prevents food from being properly processed and passed into the intestines. It is associated with symptoms like abdominal pain, weight loss, and vomiting, and is thought to be caused by difficulties in muscle contraction.

Sildenafil (or Viagra) may help to relax those muscles, making gastric emptying easier. This may be very good news for people with diabetes, who most commonly suffer from the condition. However, more research is in order.

We are all aware that Viagra helps erectile dysfunction (ED). But did you know that its active ingredient, Sildenafil, may also work as a treatment for gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is the condition that primarily affects people with diabetes, which obstructs the digestive process known as gastric emptying. This means that the stomach doesn’t process food as it should, and consequently can’t pass it into the intestines.

The condition can cause severe problems for diabetics, with symptoms including vomiting, stomach pain, and severe weight loss. However, Sildenafil may be able to ease them all.

So, how does Sildenafil help gastroparesis? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article. You’ll find that Viagra may be more than just a drug for ED

 

What Causes Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is caused by diseases that affect the muscles of the stomach or the nerves that control those muscles. Given that the stomach muscles are responsible for helping to grind down food before it enters your intestine, when they are disabled, food struggles to pass.

This causes predictable problems: people with gastroparesis don’t get the nutrients they need and so lose weight, whilst the physical obstruction of food can cause serious pain. Vomiting, bloating, and nausea are all common symptoms, too.

The most common cause of gastroparesis is diabetes, which affects the nerves controlling the stomach muscles. According to the British Medical Journal, half of all diabetics have gastroparesis, and 75% of those who have had diabetes for over five years. However, infections, injuries, and medications including anti-depressants can all cause the condition too.

In diabetics suffering from gastroparesis, evidence suggests that it is a deficiency of the chemical known as neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) that prevents the relaxation of the stomach muscles. It is due to the inactivity of these muscles that the food in the stomach doesn’t get sufficiently processed.

 

How Does Sildenafil Help Gastroparesis?

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What role does Sildenafil play in all this? 

How might Viagra, of all things, help a problem with the stomach?

Sildenafil is known primarily as a PDE5 inhibitor – it is a drug that targets an enzyme, PDE5, which is responsible for muscle contraction and relaxation in the penis. ED is usually caused by problems with blood flow associated with the failure of this muscle – and, as gastroparesis is also caused by muscle inactivity, you can see how PDE5 inhibitors could be useful here too. 

However, what’s most important to remember is this chemical, nNOS. In the case of diabetes, when diabetic sufferers of gastroparesis take insulin, this tends to resolve the symptoms – seemingly by restoring the level of nNOS to normal. 

When researchers from John Hopkins University studied the effects of Sildenafil in rats suffering gastroparesis, the Viagra drug similarly returned nNOS to healthy levels. Another study, looking at the same mechanism in rats, produced the same results. 

Judging on the evidence of these two studies, Sildenafil does support nitric oxide-mediated muscle relaxation at the pyloric sphincter. This is the major determinant in gastric emptying.

 

Does Sildenafil Actually Work for Gastroparesis?

For a condition with no licensed treatments, it is big news if Sildenafil can effectively reduce its symptoms. But do PDE5 inhibitors actually work for gastroparesis? Whilst research has not yet been conclusive, there is evidence to suggest that, yes, it does. 

For example, a study published in the Diabetes Journal suggested that Sildenafil was effective in treating diabetics with the stomach condition. Working with patients in hospitals, researchers gave each a dose of Viagra. Compared to the placebo, the Sildenafil medication improved the symptoms noticeably.

However, one study looking specifically at renal failure in humans did not support the findings of John Hopkins University. However, this was investigating a slightly different medical problem, not gastroparesis per se.

Research is ongoing into the role of Sildenafil in helping gastroparesis. However, with other PDE5 inhibitors such as Tadalafil being studied as a treatment, things look like they might be showing some promise. For people suffering from the condition, the fact that Sildenafil may ease its symptoms is excellent news.

 

What Other Uses Does Sildenafil Have?

Besides the famous use of PDE5 inhibitors for ED, drugs such as Sildenafil and Tadalafil have also been studied for their efficacy in helping other medical conditions. Given that Sildenafil was originally discovered as a treatment for hypertension, it wouldn’t be surprising if they worked. In fact, Vitamin V can do a number of surprising things.

A number of studies, for example, have tested Sildenafil for its potential benefits for cognitive function and as a treatment for cognitive impairment. It was found that Sildenafil may be effective in tackling the early signs of dementia. However, these have not yet been confirmed.

PDE5 inhibitors have, however, been proven to be effective as treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms, or LUTS, as they are known. These are problems affecting your ability to control your urinary stream – including incontinence, straining, or hesitancy – and they’re all significantly improved by PDE5 inhibitors.

 

Key Takeaways...

Viagra can be used not only as a treatment for ED. Whilst these alternative applications are not all scientifically confirmed, there is evidence that Sildenafil can help gastroparesis – and other medical conditions besides. 

Sildenafil helps gastroparesis through a similar process to that by which it helps ED. As a PDE5 inhibitor, it facilitates muscle relaxation in both the stomach and penis by increasing local levels of nNOS. In the case of gastroparesis, this helps your stomach break down food again – and reduces the condition’s symptoms.