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Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2017 Mar;21(1 Suppl):17-22.

Sildenafil-associated hepatoxicity: a review of the literature.

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Drug Abuse and Doping Unit, Department of Therapeutic Research and Medicines Evaluation, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.


Sildenafil citrate (Viagra®) is a vasoactive agent available worldwide since 1998 for the treatment of male erectile dysfunction. It is a selective phosphodiesterase type 5-enzyme inhibitor able to potentiate the downstream effects of nitric oxide on smooth muscle relaxation and vasodilation through its effects on the cyclic guanosine monophosphate (c-GMP) pathway in the erectile tissue of the penis. When sildenafil is orally administered, it is rapidly absorbed with a maximum plasma concentration achieved within 1 h and has a terminal half-life of between 3 to 6 h. The drug is extensively and rapidly metabolized by the liver, primarily by the CYP3A4 enzyme. Although the drug is well tolerated, specific adverse events have been observed, like flushing, headaches, dyspepsia, and visual disturbances. Liver toxicity related to sildenafil consumption has been considered a very rare event. However, in the last decade, some cases of sildenafil-associated hepatotoxicity have been reported. Furthermore, some hepatic intoxications have been reported after the intake of "natural" or "herbal" aphrodisiac supplements sold through Internet, sex shops, social media, and by word-of-mouth found to contain sildenafil and other phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. Studies investigating a possible link between sildenafil use and liver damage are limited, and the underlying mechanism responsible for hepatotoxicity is still missing. Studies in animals evidence that the hematopoietic function of the liver may have severely been affected as a result of a probable toxic effect of sildenafil. Here, the studies reporting liver toxicity by sildenafil in humans and in animals are reported and discussed.

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