Erectile dysfunction (sometimes called impotence) means that you cannot get or maintain a proper erection. There are several causes, the most common being due to a narrowing of the arteries that take blood to the penis. Alprostadil is a vasodilator, which means that it works by widening (dilating) blood vessels to improve the flow of blood. When administered to the penis, blood flow to this area is increased, resulting in an erection usually within 10-15 minutes.
Alprostadil is available as an injection treatment, which is where you inject alprostadil into the base of your penis. It is available as a urethral application, which is where you place a small pellet containing alprostadil into your urethra (the tube which your urine passes through and which opens at the end of your penis). It is also available as a cream which is applied to the opening of the urethra on the tip of the penis. You will be taught how to use the preparation you have been prescribed.
Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about the specific brand of alprostadil you have been given, diagrams to remind you how to use it, and a full list of the side-effects which may occur.
Vitaros® cream is available in one strength - 300 micrograms. The cream is supplied in a container which looks like a syringe (although it must not be inserted into your penis or injected in any way). Each container is to be used once only.
Your first dose may be given to you by a doctor or nurse. This is to show you how to use the cream correctly before you do it yourself at home. It is important that you ask if you are unsure about any of the instructions you are given.
It is usual for the cream to start to work within 5-30 minutes and for its effects to last an hour or two, although this can vary from person to person.
If your partner is pregnant, it is important that you use a barrier method of contraception (such as a condom) during sex. This is to help guard against any harm to the unborn baby. It will also help avoid any irritation of the vagina of your partner.
You must not use more than one dose in any 24-hour period, and you must not use more than three doses a week.
Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with alprostadil. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve after an hour or so, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.
Very common alprostadil side-effects (these affect more than 1 in 10 men)
- Painful penis, or a burning sensation
Common alprostadil side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 men)
- Prolonged and painful erection
- Headache, feeling dizzy or light-headed
- Bleeding from the site of application (injection only), bruising
- Testicular pain, leg cramps
If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.
Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start using alprostadil it is important that your doctor knows:
- If you have any disease, injury, or any abnormality of your penis, or if you have been told you have a problem in your urethra.
- If you have been advised for medical reasons not to have sex.
- If you have any problems with feeling dizzy or faint.
- If you have any heart or blood vessel problems.
- If you have high blood pressure (hypertension).
- If you have high blood sugar levels (diabetes mellitus).
- If you are a smoker.
- If you have sickle cell disease.
- If you have had bone marrow cancer or leukaemia.
- If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines. It is particularly important that you tell your doctor if you are using any other product to help treat erectile dysfunction.
- If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
The patient information leaflet (PIL) is a leaflet containing specific information about medical conditions, doses and side effects. You can download a copy of the PIL here:
Patient Info Leaflet