What does erectile dysfunction and muscular dystrophy have in common? Apparently one day they both may be treated using the same medication. A new study in Neurology has found that when young boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy were given erectile dysfunction medication, their blood flow significantly improved. Although the results are promising, researchers urge that rather than it being a potential cure, it may open the door to identifying new treatments for the conditions.

In the small study, researchers observed the blood flow in 10 boys aged 8 to 13 with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. All of these boys were prescribed steroids and able to walk, although some used a wheelchair or scooter. According to the press release, the researchers measured the blood flow in all the boys when they were at rest and again when they were doing handgrip exercises. The boys continued to demonstrate abnormal blood flow when compared to healthy boys in the same age range.

Promising Results

The researchers repeated the study, now giving Cialis or Viagra to the boys with Duchenne. Both drugs improved blood flow in boys with the condition to the point where it was equal to that of the healthy boys, HealthDay reported. “The effect was immediate and dramatic. The results also were more pronounced with higher does," Ronald G. Victor, an author on the study, explained in the press release. Not surprisingly, the only side effect observed was an increase of erections in the boys. The erections were neither painful nor dangerous and resolved spontaneously without treatment,” For the time being the study will not change current clinical practice treatments for the condition. “We are not going to have anybody prescribing this until we see the results of larger studies, and I wouldn’t tell anybody to stop their steroids yet,” Dr. Migvis Monduy, a pediatric neurologist explained to HealthDay.

The most popular erectile dysfunction medication, Viagra, was actually a failed angina treatment. It was designed to relax the vessels that supply blood to the heart. In patients suffering from angina, these are normally constricted. However, Viagra proved to be unsuccessful in treating angina during its trials, but researchers noted its incredible ability to improve sexual function in men.  

What is Duchenne muscular dystrophy?

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a progressive and fatal muscle disease. It is a genetic condition found on the X-chromosome, causing it to primarily affect boys and young men. Duchenne causes loss of muscle function because the muscle fibers are unusually susceptible to damage. There is currently no cure and most sufferers eventually end up in a wheelchair. Steroids, such as corticosteroids, are given to those with this condition because they have been known to slow muscle degeneration and help lessen the condition’s effect on the lungs and heart. These steroids cause negative reactions in some, and according to the press release, more than a quarter of people with the disease are intolerant of the drugs.

Future Studies

Wider studies will be conducted to better understand the effects of erectile dysfunction drugs on boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. At the moment, due to the small size of the study, there are several limitations. For example, researchers are not sure if the improved blood flow can be kept up with long-term use of the drug. It is also not known if restoration of normal blood flow will help preserve muscle and slow the disease progression. “If so, this would offter new therapeutic strategy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy,  and a Phase III clinical trial has been launched to find out,” Victor concluded.

 

Source: Nelson MD, Rader F, Tang X, et al. PDE5 inhibition alleviates functional muscle ischemia in boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Neurology. 2014.