Ladies, get the skinny on female Viagra

It could be for you. Or not. This doc tells you what you need to know.
Viagra for women is what Addyi has been called. Here's what you need to know. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Viagra for women is what Addyi has been called. Here’s what you need to know. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Many of you may have heard about a newly approved medicine some are calling the “female viagra” that can be used to improve sexual desire in women.

And, you may have some questions about how this new drug, Addyi, works and if it might be for you.

Medical professionals are happy that a medicine has finally been developed, studied and approved by the FDA for women, but it is not for everyone.

Addyi is a medicine that has been shown to improve hypoactive sex desire disorder in women who are premenopausal.

These are women who “want to want” again and are bothered or distressed by their lack of sexual desire. If this describes you, please know that you are not alone. Up to 14 percent of women age 20-49 suffer from this disorder.

Viagra is a well-known drug used by men to improve their sexual performance. It has been on the market for many years and is talked about freely, without risk of embarrassment.

It’s about time the medical community widens the discussion to sex drive in women, and I’m glad to provide some valuable information about this topic to my patients and my blog readers.

Low sex desire can be caused by several factors, including fatigue, relationship issues (stress or not feeling connected), poor self image, low hormones (testosterone or estrogen), chronic medical conditions (diabetes, depression or anxiety), or pain with sex caused by dryness or other issues.

Male Viagra works by improving blood flow, but Addyi works in women by adjusting brain chemicals—two completely different mechanisms resulting in the same end result.

Addyi works in women who do not have any other issues causing their low sex drive.

Many women find themselves experiencing this exact issue, especially when they are approaching the premenopause years.

For example, a patient of mine I’ll call Sally fits this description perfectly.

At 45 years old, Sally was happily married and truly liked her husband. They had fun together, enjoyed their children, were compatible in most areas of their life and rarely fought. They both had good jobs, exercised regularly and had a good network of friends.

Sally was healthy, didn’t suffer from anxiety or depression, and wasn’t in perimenopause yet.

She told me she didn’t have pain with sex and she even enjoyed it once she and her husband got going. However, she admitted she never initiated sex and just did not feel like having sex at all. Sally told her husband to not take it personally, but she just didn’t feel “in the mood” anymore.

When Sally walked into my office that day, I knew she had something on her mind.

She was upset about her change in sex drive. Nothing else in her life had changed—she simply had less desire for sex than she used to. This sudden change was making her unhappy, and she knew her relationship was suffering as a result.

She was beginning to feel less close to her husband, and it wasn’t his fault. Sally wanted to initiate sex, and she definitely wanted to “want” again. Her husband was understanding, but they were both disappointed to have lost something they shared for so many years.

Sally came to me because I am a menopause specialist and she hoped I could give her some hormone meds for a quick fix. However, Sally was still having normal periods, had strong hormone levels, and was not on the pill for birth control (which can lower free testosterone).

Hormones were not the issue and giving her hormone meds wouldn’t help her fix the problem. To be absolutely certain, I checked Sally’s testosterone level, and it was on the high side of normal.

She wondered what other help I could offer her.

When Sally came to see me, I knew that Addyi was close to being approved, so I mentioned to her that help was on its way, but we would have to wait for the FDA approval. I explained that in order for Addyi to work properly, it must be taken every day—not just at the time of wanting to want sex.

The drug works by lowering brain serotonin and increasing dopamine—the pleasure brain chemical. Our mood, thoughts and function are partially dependent on the interaction of brain chemicals.

Addyi has been shown to improve sex drive over a placebo, double the number of satisfying sex events in women, and decrease the distress over having a low sex drive. I felt confident that the drug would be a real option for someone like Sally—someone with no other apparent medical issues.

Of course, like every medicine, there are always potential side effects that doctors and patients need to know. Addyi can cause low blood pressure, even to the point where it can cause fainting. In addition, this side effect can be made much worse by consuming alcohol.

From the study that has been done, we aren’t sure exactly how much alcohol it takes for it to become a problem. In some women, it could be one serving; in others, it could be several servings. More studies need to be done to determine the levels and effects of alcohol, but for now, it’s recommended to avoid alcohol when using this drug.

The good news is that there is hope for women like Sally who don’t have other conditions that make them have low sex drive.

Sally left my office knowing everything wasn’t all “in her head” and that she doesn’t secretly dislike her husband.

She was relieved to know that low sex drive can be a medical condition with a modern-day remedy.

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