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Couple showing a blue pill.

The First-timer’s Guide to Using Viagra (and other ED Meds)

Highlights: 

  • ED medications work by increasing nitrous oxide in the body, causing improved blood flow into the penis.
  • All ED meds are slightly different. Consider how they interact with food and the time they take to work when making a choice of medication.
  • PDE5 inhibitors can cause drug interactions with other medications. For example, men who take nitrate medications should never take an ED drug.
  • Not all men react the same way to ED medications. You may need to try more than one to find the best pill for you.

Millions of men suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) and many of them will turn to erectile dysfunction medication as a proven way to regain their sexual health. Harvard Men’s Health Watch reports that taking an erectile dysfunction drug like Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, or Stendra is effective for more than 70% of men who suffer from ED.

Are you ready to consider an ED medication? Then read on to learn more about how these medications work and how to use them most effectively. We’ll also go over what side effects to watch out for and what possible drug interactions can cause problems.

How Do Erectile Dysfunction Medications Work?

Medications like Viagra (or the generic sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), Staxyn (vardenafil ODT), and Stendra avanafil) belong to a class of medications called PDE5 inhibitors (or PDE5Is). They work by raising the levels of nitric oxide in your blood. Nitric oxide is a naturally occurring chemical in your body that relaxes the muscles in your penis so that blood can flow into it and make your penis erect in response to sexual stimulation.

Blood flow is the key to getting and maintaining an erection. If you are stressed, have high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, or high levels of cholesterol, these can reduce the amount of blood flow to your penis and make you more susceptible to erectile dysfunction.

How to Use ED Medication to Get the Best Results

The first thing that all men should remember is to always take the medicine as directed. Taking too much of any erectile medication can cause serious complications. You should never increase your dosage or frequency without first checking with your doctor.

Here are a few other things that you can do to make sure that you are getting the most out of your ED medication:

  • Check to see what, and when, to eat for your specific pill. Some medications, such as Stendra (avanafil), Cialis (tadalafil), and Levitra (vardenafil), aren’t affected by food intake. Other medications, however, are affected. Eating a big, fatty, meal after taking Viagra (sildenafil), for example, can slow down the effectiveness of the drug and make it take longer to work.
  • Pay attention to how long the medications take to work. ED meds vary in the time they take to kick in. Viagra and Levitra take about 30 minutes, but the wait time for Cialis can be up to two hours. You will want to plan your activity and your sexual intimacy with these times in mind.
  • Don’t give up! Sadly, as many as one-third of men don’t try their new medication more than once before giving up. Experts recommend that you try the new medicine at least twice before deciding that it doesn’t work for you. Then, even if you have given up on one type of medication, be ready to try another! ED meds don’t work the same for all men. Some may need to try more than one drug to find the one that works best.

Man taking a blue pill with a glass of water.

Common Side Effects of ED Medication

Just like with any medication, there are side effects to ED medications.  Luckily,  those that occur most frequently are minor. The most commonly reported side effects include:

  • Headaches (caused by a sudden change in blood flow)
  • Flushing (blotchy skin or a rash)
  • Congestion and runny nose
  • Body aches and pains (often manageable with over-the-counter pain killers)
  • Digestive upset (such as indigestion and diarrhea)
  • Dizziness (and in extreme cases, fainting)
  • Changes in vision (such as blue or blurry vision)
  • Loss of hearing
  • Priapism (an erection that lasts for four hours or more)

Any side effects should be reported to your doctor, who can advise you on how to lessen the effects and give you advice on whether or not you should change medications. In cases of erections that last more than four hours, changes in hearing, or vision loss, contact your doctor right away. 

Potential Drug Interactions 

The most dangerous drug interaction that men need to be aware of is between ED medicine and nitrates. Nitrates are commonly prescribed for men who have heart problems and other forms of cardiovascular disease. These drugs can cause unsafe — and even fatal — drops in blood pressure.

See the Drug Interaction Checker at Drugs.com to learn about dangerous interactions between ED meds and other medications.

Choosing the Right ED Medication 

While the medications discussed here all work in similar ways, there are differences among them. Some medications, like Stendra, work very quickly and can be taken 30 minutes before sexual activity. Some last longer; Cialis, for example, is effective for up to 36 hours.

Cost, is, of course, another factor to consider as the average cost of each medication varies, and all but Stendra are available in a cheaper, generic form, but prices vary among retail outlets. Wise consumers consider the price of the prescription itself as well as other factors such as time and the need to make a doctor’s appointment. Follow the eDrugstore blog for monthly pricing updates for major retailers.

Every man should consult with a physician to determine the right ED medication for him. That’s why at eDrugstore, we offer free, discreet, online consultations with U.S.-licensed doctors and pharmacists who will help you determine the best treatment plan. Check out our medication guide and call 1-800-467-5146 to set up your free appointment. It’s time to get started on the road to regaining sexual health and pleasure!

Elizabeth Nichols is an experienced and flexible author with extensive experience in both popular media and academic publishing. She specializes in health, medical and travel writing.