The History of Sildenafil

Sildenafil’s history begins in 1989, when its blood vessel-relaxing properties were investigated for the treatment of patients suffering with high blood pressure and angina (the name for chest pains endured by heart disease patients).

To understand how it became the wonder-drug for providing men with better erections all over the world, we have to start from the beginning – which is a relatively short time ago. Follow the history of Sildenafil to find out how Viagra’s ‘little blue pill’ came to be one of the best-known drugs across the globe, from the moment of its launch.

Sildenafil Citrate


In 1989, two British scientists working for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, Albert Wood and Peter Dunn, created the drug Sildenafil Citrate with the hope that it could ease the pain of angina and decrease blood pressure in patients. A few years later in 1991, a Dr. Nicolas Terrett became involved with the development of the drug, at this point still only being researched as heart medication.

Early trials of Sildenafil Citrate were conducted throughout the early 1990s by Pfizer, but they concluded that it had little promise of being a useful treatment for heart disease. Despite this, the subjects in the trial reported a positive side effect: they found they had increased and improved erections after taking the drug.

Coincidentally, around the same time, scientists were discovering more about how men achieve erections, and that blood flow was significantly involved in the process. For these reasons, the drug began new clinical trials for treatment of erectile dysfunction after its failure to prove effective for treating angina.



Sildenafil under the name ‘Viagra’ was patented by Pfizer in 1996, and in March 1998, the Food and Drug Administration in the USA approved the drug for treating erectile dysfunction. It didn’t take long for word to spread – it’s reported that in the first few weeks of availability, pharmacies in the US dispensed over 40,000 prescriptions for the drug.

Just a couple of months later in May 1998, Viagra makes the cover of TIME magazine, under the headline ‘The Potency Pill’. The story proved controversial. It included a quote from Bob Guccione, the owner of adult magazine Penthouse, hailing the pill for freeing the American male’s libido from the emasculation of feminists. Of course, this provoked a feminist backlash.

Popular Culture


After the TIME cover story, the infamous blue pill gained plenty of media coverage. An episode of the Larry King Live show on CNN featured Bob Dole, a former presidential nominee, who called Viagra ‘a great drug’ after saying that he took part in its clinical trials. Dole was later hired by Pfizer for their TV campaign aimed at increasing awareness of erectile dysfunction.

American magazine Newsweek covered Viagra’s rise to fame in June 1998, claiming it as the ‘hottest’ new drug in world history. At that time the drug was only legal in the USA, Mexico, Morocco and Brazil, but there was a booming black-market supply of the drug in other countries, such was its incredible popularity.

The pill became a frequent feature of TV shows – factual and fictional. A notable appearance came from an episode of Sex and the City, in which the character Samantha dates a man who uses Viagra, and even takes a pill herself. (There’s no evidence to suggest that Viagra works on women.)

Death Claims


It wasn’t all good news. In 2000 at the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Sanjay Kaul presented reports of 522 deaths of patients who had died while using Viagra during the first year of its availability. He reported ‘cardiovascular events’ implicated in the deaths were associated with the drug.

He also stated, however, that he was not linking a cause-and-effect relationship between them. Even so, Sildenafil, Viagra and its variants still to this day carry warnings against being taken in cases where a patient also suffers from heart disease.



Two competitors for Viagra were launched in 2003 – though Viagra still maintains its crown as the world’s most popular erectile dysfunction drug. First Bayer’s vardenafil hydrochloride treatment, branded Levitra, launched in August, while Lilly USA’s Cialis drug was made available in November. Both drugs are used to treat ED, and Levitra proved a safer alternative for patients with heart disease.



Revatio, the brand name of Sildenafil for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), was approved by the FDA in 2005. It was released by Pfizer, the same pharmaceutical company that produced Viagra.

Popularity Today


Viagra’s popularity certainly still endures today. Its annual sales reportedly peaked in 2008 at a sum of $1.934billion (£1.460billion). In 2015 there was a reported spike in the use of Viagra, rising approximately by a quarter over 12 months. The exact cause was never determined, but it is thought to be propelled by Sildenafil’s sudden drop in price in 2013.

The decrease in price was caused by the expiry of the European patent of Viagra, enabling other drug companies to release new, cheaper versions of Sildenafil.

Counterfeit Drug Warnings


Viagra is one of the most counterfeited drugs in the world – meaning that there are huge quantities of fake pills in circulation on the black market. A Pfizer study showed that approximately 80% of websites claiming to sell the drug were selling fakes.

For this reason, customers should use extreme caution when buying the drug online. Pfizer set up its own online dispenser on its website to combat the toxic fakes, which were sometimes found to include a dangerous cocktail of chemicals including rat poison, amphetamines and blue printer ink.

Taking Sildenafil


Sildenafil is widely available across the world – either from a doctor or online. Patients taking drugs bought online should always be extremely vigilant about the possibility of fake drugs.

A doctor will gladly prescribe Sildenafil for either ED or PAH ailments with a recommended dose tailored to each individual patient – that’s why it’s imperative to gain a doctor’s advice before taking the medication.

If you would like to try Sildenafil, do your research for reputable online pharmacies or visit your doctor. Remember to always seek medical advice if you suffer ill-effects after taking any drug.

About Maryam BenhamDr Maryam Benham obtained her medical degree in medicine in Iran in October 2004 and moved to the UK in 2006 and has held full registration with the General Medical Council since 2007. Maryam finished her foundation training at Ealing hospital and has done two years of surgery in different London hospitals such as Royal Free Hospital before deciding to pursue specialist training in General Practice at Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS) Deanery in 2011. Since finishing her GP training in September 2014 Maryam has been a dedicated General Practitioner in London.

With special interest in Dermatology, Aesthetics and minor skin procedures alongside her NHS work as a general practitioner, Maryam stays updated in her areas of interest through attending seminars and minor surgery and aesthetic courses. As part of the new generation of highly dedicated and skilled British doctors, Maryam believes that her main aim is to deliver the best care to her patients and to provide them with the best possible medical advice.
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