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Drugs and Diving - Erectile Dysfunction

Dr Jules Eden, dive medicine specialist and founder of e-med, answers divers' questions - as published in Sport Diver magazine:
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Q - I am a refined, mature but physically active "coffin-dodger" (one of the more galling nicknames that's been foisted on me by exuberant grandchildren). I still enjoy sport (tennis, golf and the like) but only recently discovered the joys of diving. My wife and I take the odd cruise, where she can sunbathe and gossip to her heart's content while I immerse myself in the reef's feast of fecundity. However, at the enviable age of 74 I find, like many of my contemporaries, that all is not well in the trouser department. My GP has prescribed me Viagra which I must say does wonders (the wife is as thrilled as I am) but I am hesitant to dive the day after using it, for fear of untold calamity if it is still in my system. Are my concerns well-founded?

A - Viagra was first synthesised here in the good old UK (at a lab in Sandwich, Kent to be precise). It was disappointing in the context for which it was originally designed (treatment of high blood pressure and angina), but a large proportion of (presumably quite excited) trial subjects reported that it induced remarkable penile erections. Hence it was remarketed for erectile dysfunction, and the ubiquitous blue pill is now popular with party-goers, counterfeiters and adult industry workers the world over. Medically, it does have a profound effect on dropping the blood pressure in the lung circulation, where it widens the blood vessels. And this might have relevance for divers, as the lungs help clear any rogue bubbles by trapping them and allowing them to diffuse away. By dilating blood vessels, more bubbles may be able to pass through to the systemic circulation, causing symptoms. However, there’s not been a shred of evidence to support this theory, and as the half-life of Viagra is only 4 hours, it will be out of your system by the time you dive the day after using it. So I wouldn’t let this concern spoil the trip, or your wife’s evident glee.

Q - Is it OK and safe to use Viagra half day before scuba diving?

A - Hmmm. Depends whether you can still get that wet suit on hot lover. But then again, it’s a good way to stop your weight belt from slipping off. Viagra will result in the widening of the vessels responsible for the blood flow to your old man. Users can still get facial flushing, headaches and gastritis. But some people do not. So if you are free of all these side effects, not a priapismic monster any more, 12 hours is safe enough.

(other dive medical questions)


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