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Medication and Sexual Side Effects

Many Drugs Dull Sex Drive and Responsiveness

By Marc Lallanilla

(LifeWire) - Men and women alike have found that prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can cause sexual dysfunction, with side effects ranging from erectile dysfunction (ED) and menstrual irregularities to lack of libido and anorgasmia (the inability to experience orgasm).

The list of medications that can cause sexual dysfunction is long and includes some of the most widely prescribed drugs available today. Some of the most common medications affecting sexual performance are drugs that treat allergies, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder. Illegal and recreational drugs -- including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines -- can also cause sexual dysfunction.

The number of people affected by drug-induced sexual dysfunction is difficult to ascertain. Many patients are reluctant to discuss any sexual issues with their healthcare providers, so these problems are often underreported. And the sexual side effects of drugs have not been widely studied by researchers, especially with regard to women.

Many diseases can also affect sexual functioning, making it difficult to determine what is the root cause of the sexual problem. Depression, for example, can cause ED and loss of libido, yet the very drugs often prescribed for treating depression -- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants -- can also cause those same sexual problems. Similarly, high blood pressure can cause ED and other sexual dysfunctions, as can Apresoline (hydralazine), Lopressor (metoprolol) and Vasotec (enalapril), which are prescribed to treat high blood pressure.

Sexual dysfunction can result from the action of the drug itself or from a side effect. Some drugs decrease sexual hormone levels, thereby lowering your sex drive. Others can depress your central nervous system, affecting nerve endings and sensitivity, or decrease the flow of blood to sex organs.

As a result of these sexual problems, patients often attempt to modify the doses of their medicine, including stopping their medication altogether, or they self-medicate with other drugs or supplements. Before trying any of these options, you should discuss sexual dysfunction with your doctor, because these options can cause serious health problems.

There are a number of effective options for treating sexual dysfunction in men and women. If, for example, high blood pressure medication is suspected of causing ED, your doctor may switch you to an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, which usually has fewer sexual side effects. Or your doctor may prescribe an additional drug or treatment, such as vaginal lubricants, hormone therapy, or Viagra (sildenafil citrate) for ED. Other options include a doctor-prescribed dose reduction or "drug holiday," during which you might take a short break from your medication.

Sources:

"Drugs That May Cause Impotence." Medline Plus. 15 Aug. 2006. National Institutes of Health. 28 Feb. 2009 <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004024.htm>.



"Male Sexual Dysfunction." merck.com. Jun. 2007. Merck & Co.. 28 Feb. 2009 <http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec17/ch227/ch227c.html>.



"Medications and Sexual Dysfunction: What's the Connection?" Johns Hopkins Health Alert. Jun. 2008. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 28 Feb. 2009 <http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/heart_health/JohnsHopkinsHeartHealth_400-1.html>.



Phillips, Nancy A. "Female Sexual Dysfunction: Evaluation and Treatment." aafp.org. 1 Jul. 2000. American Academy of Family Physicians. 28 Feb. 2009 <http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000701/127.html>.


LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Marc Lallanilla is a New York-based freelance writer and editor. He has written extensively on health, science, the environment, design, architecture, business, lifestyle and travel.

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