Research on Sildenafil (Viagra) and Fetal Distress Halted

Sildenafil citrate is the phosphodiesterase-V inhibitor more commonly known as the erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra (1). A recent trial study of sildenafil was performed by Saleish Kumar of the Mater Research Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.

The aim of the study was to reduce the instance of fetal distress during labor. Fetal distress is an emergency pregnancy, labor, and delivery complication in which a baby experiences oxygen deprivation or  hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

His research team studied 300 full-term pregnant women who were given sildenafil in Australia. They found that use of the medication resulted in roughly (1):

  • 50% less time spent in the later stages of labor
  • 50% less use of forceps in delivery
  • 50% fewer women in need of emergency C-section 

How does sildenafil work?

In theory, in cases of treating pregnant women, sildenafil works by dilating pelvic blood vessels, which increases the blood flow to the placenta and, therefore, the oxygen supply to the baby. This helps restore the blood flow between mother and baby that diminishes during contractions (1).

Study paused

The study was paused, however, in light of the results from another study on the drug in the Netherlands (2). The trial was done by Amsterdam University Medical Centre, begun in 2015, and set to end in 2020. Ninety-three women were given the drug trial (3). It was designed to help increase the blood flow from mother to baby in cases of placental insufficiency during pregnancy (3). Placental insufficiency is a common cause of complications like intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), brain damage, HIE, and CP (4).

Research was halted immediately when it was discovered that 17 babies in the trial developed lung problems, and 11 of these babies died (3).

Kumar halted his study when these results came out because the safety of the drug to unborn babies was in question. Although the studies distinctly differed, Kumar’s study still could not go on.

Future studies possible

Professor Kumar and his research team hope to pursue a future study involving 8,500 women in labor down the road. This study, however, cannot be pursued until sildenafil is found to be safe to unborn babies. 

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Sources:

  1. Scott, S., & Lloyd, M. (2019, November 14). Viagra could be a ‘game changer’ for pregnant women. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-14/viagra-could-help-women-during-labour/11696156
  2. Jones, L. (2019, November 14). Viagra could cut labour times in HALF – and prevent emergency c-sections, docs discover. Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10347497/viagra-cut-labour-times-half-prevent-emergency-c-sections/
  3. Boffey, D. (2018, July 24). Eleven babies die after Dutch women given Viagra-like drug in trial. Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/24/eleven-babies-die-dutch-women-viagra-drug-trial
  4. Placental Insufficiency, Medical Malpractice, and Birth Injury. (n.d.). Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/maternal-medical-conditions/placental-insufficiency/

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