New research in the July 23/30, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the drug sildenafil, commonly marketed as Viagra, may help moderate the negative sexual side effects of antidepressants in women.

Investigators found that only 28% of women taking Viagra reported continued sexual dysfunction ... while 73% of women taking placebo[s].

Of women who take serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) for depression, somewhere between 30 and 70% suffer from associated sexual side effects, including lack of lubrication or deferral of orgasm. These negative sexual side effects are responsible for many women (up to 70% in the first months of treatment) discontinuing use of antidepressants and relapsing into depression. Until now no rigorous clinical trials have found a treatment for antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction.

However, a team at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine has conducted a randomized clinical study, using 98 women taking SRIs who were in remission for major depression. Of these, half were given Viagra and half were given placebo. For a period of eight weeks, all women were advised to take the medication approximately two hours before expected sexual activity.

The investigators found that only 28% of women taking Viagra reported continued sexual dysfunction (i.e., no improvement) during these eight weeks, while 73% of women taking placebo reported continued sexual dysfunctions. There was an increase in reports of headache, flushing, and nasal congestion from women taking Viagra compared to placebo. However, no patients opted out of the study due to side effects.

The researchers had previously found Viagra to help men suffering from the sexual side effects of antidepressants (i.e., erectile dysfunction). However, women suffer from depression almost twice as much as men and, as the authors note, "they experience greater resulting sexual dysfunction than men." The authors underline that these results are greatly encouraging for women suffering from depression and will hopefully act to "reduce the current high rates of premature medication discontinuation."