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Alprostadil is the pharmaceutical name of synthetically-produced prostaglandin E1. It belongs to a group of medications known as vasodilators, as it increases blood flow by expanding blood vessels.
This medication is most commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction, but may also treat a congenital heart disorder called patent ductus arteriosus in newborn babies and critical limb ischemia, a condition seen in the later stages of peripheral artery disease.
Alprostadil helps treat erectile dysfunction by relaxing muscles and widening blood vessels in the penis. This causes blood to flow easier, leading to a strong erection. After alprostadil wears off, usually after a period of 30 to 60 minutes, the blood flow returns to normal and the erection subsides.
In the United States, alprostadil is sold in an injectable form (mostly under the brand names Edex and Caverject) and as urethral suppositories (known as Muse). Muse should be taken 10 minutes before an erection is required. Edex and Caverject are injected into the penis’ corpus cavernosum, the spongy regions which contain most of the blood flow, and work in a similarly speedy manner. In Europe, alprostadil is also available as a topical cream called Vitaros. The cream is applied directly to the urethra.
Alprostadil should not be used more than once during a 24-hour period, or more than three times a week, unless approved by a doctor.
Alprostadil can cause some side effects, which can be especially harmful to people with diabetes, heart problems, or men who have undertaken a prostatectomy. Men with these conditions are not advised to take alprostadil in injectable and suppository forms. However, testing has shown the topical cream does not cause such negative side effects, so it can be safely used by men with these medical conditions.
While alprostadil can be a great help for men suffering from impotence, it should not be used as a sexual aid by men who do not suffer this condition. When misused, alprostadil may cause permanent penile damage and impair the ability to have healthy erections.