Viagra, they say, can move men to shout from the mountain tops. Now scientists have found a new use for the drug – and one that benefits people who live on mountain tops too.

Viagra, they say, can move men to shout from the mountain tops. Now scientists have found a new use for the drug – and one that benefits people who live on mountain tops too.

The anti-impotence drug can be good for the heart and lungs, especially at high altitudes, doctors at London's Hammersmith Hospital said yesterday. After studying healthy male volunteers in one of the world's highest nations, Kyrgyzstan, they found it is a promising treatment for pulmonary hypertension, is a serious, often fatal constriction of the arteries of the lungs.

Research funded by the British Heart Foundation has established that, just as Viagra affects the blood supply to a man's most sensitive part, it has a similar effect in areas most medications fail to reach – the pulmonary arteries.

Viagra's wondrous effects will be as welcome to the thousands who suffer from pulmonary hypertension as they have been to the tens of millions of men who suffer from "ED" – erectile dysfunction.

Pulmonary hypertension is caused by smoking, heart valve disease, emphysema and bronchitis, and sufferers experience breathlessness and severe incapacity. In Britain it is relatively rare. But in Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet republic in Central Asia, it is experienced by up to 30 per cent of the population because of the high altitude.

Researchers studied 10 healthy male volunteers at the cardiology centre in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The volunteers breathed in deoxygenated air for half an hour, inducing a 56 per cent increase in pulmonary artery pressure. When they repeated the test after taking Viagra, their pulmonary artery pressure remained normal. It is not recorded if there were any other effects.

Professor Martin Wilkins, who led the research, said: "The results were as we expected. The next step is to test it on people with chronic pulmonary hypertension to see if it lowers the pressure."

Viagra was originally developed as a treatment for heart problems, until its blissful side-effects were seized on. It is still not recommended for heart patients, such as angina sufferers, taking nitrates. Now manufacturers may be faced with a new problem – how to produce a long-lasting version of the drug without creating a runaway demand.

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