Scientists may have found an unexpected source of relief for women who suffer from menstrual cramps. A small study at Pennsylvania State University found that sildenafil citrate (also known as Viagra), a medication commonly used to treat male erectile dysfunction, may actually relieve cramping.
For the study, researchers recruited 25 women ages 18 to 35 with moderate to severe primary dysmenorrhea, the medical term for menstrual cramps. They found that women who received vaginally-administered sildenafil experienced pain relief and no side effects. Oral administration of the drug, by contrast, may lead to side effects such as headaches.
Sildenafil may possibly alleviate cramping by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the uterus, the researchers said, but the exact mechanism is unknown. Larger studies are required to confirm the researchers’ findings.
Menstrual cramps are usually due to the production of prostaglandins, which are natural compounds that regulate contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle. Primary dysmenorrhea is usually treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, which may cause stomach ulcers or kidney problems if used in large amounts over long periods of time.
Menstrual cramps affect up to 90% of women during their lifetimes.