Drug Info

First time taking ED pills? Learn how to take Viagra for the best results

Cropped SingleCare logo By | Updated on November 12, 2020
Medically reviewed by Anis Rehman, MD

How Viagra works | How to take Viagra for the first time | Dosages | What to expect | How long does Viagra last? | Side effects | Interactions

Viagra is one of the most well-known erectile dysfunction medications, but there’s a lot more to know about the little blue pill to use it properly, get the full benefits from it, and avoid unwanted side effects. Let’s take a look at how to take Viagra to get the best results.

How does Viagra treat erectile dysfunction?

When someone has erectile dysfunction (ED), they cannot get and keep an erection to have sexual intercourse. ED is usually due to a combination of psychological and physical health issues that affect the brain, hormones, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Here are some of the most common causes of ED

  • Stress
  • Relationship problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol 
  • High blood pressure  
  • Hypogonadism (low testosterone levels)

Viagra helps men get and keep an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis. It belongs to a group of medications called phosphodiesterase PDE5 inhibitors, which work as vasodilators and cause blood vessels to relax. Viagra can’t permanently cure ED, but it can help in the short-term and is safe to take every day if approved by a doctor. After taking Viagra, most men will be able to maintain an erection for about two to three hours before the effects start to wear off. Viagra is not available over-the-counter and must be prescribed by a physician.

RELATED: How does Viagra work?

How to take Viagra for the first time

ED pills can be a bit intimidating the first few times you take it. Like any new medication, you probably don’t know what to expect. It’s important to understand how to take Viagra correctly to get the best results. Taking too much Viagra at one time, not taking enough, or taking it under the wrong circumstances could potentially cause side effects or for the drug to not work at all.

Even though Viagra works well for many men, it isn’t for everyone. You should check with their doctor before taking it. If you have any of the following medical conditions, it’s best to talk with your doctor about whether Viagra is right for you:

  • Low blood pressure
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes 

If your doctor says it okay for you to take Viagra and gives you a prescription, there are some things to keep in mind before taking it for the first time. 

1. Timing is everything

Viagra should be taken orally 30 minutes to four hours before sexual activity but is most effective if taken one hour beforehand. 

After you’ve taken Viagra for the first time and have a better understanding of how it works, it will be easier to use on a more regular basis. Some people may need to take it one hour before sexual activity, whereas others may find that it takes closer to two to three hours to start working for them. 

2. Take the prescribed amount

The standard dose is 50 mg taken with or without food. Some experts recommend taking Viagra on an empty stomach and certainly not after eating a high-fat meal. However, other researchers have not found a connection between taking Viagra with food and lower efficacy of the drug. If you’re taking Viagra regularly, it may be a good idea to keep track of what works best for you.

3. Sexual stimulation is required

Viagra may not work the first time for everyone. Making sure you’re sexually aroused will increase the probability of it working for you. Once it does start to work, you can expect your erection to last anywhere from two to three hours.

Viagra dosages

Viagra is sometimes referred to as the “little blue pill” because of its blue-colored coating. It’s one of the brand-names of the generic medication called sildenafil citrate, which is manufactured by Pfizer Inc. Viagra pills are labeled with how much sildenafil citrate they contain: 25 mg, 50 mg, or 100 mg. A doctor may prescribe someone different dosages of Viagra based on whether they will be taking it as needed or daily. Dosage strengths will vary from person-to-person, so it’s always best to speak with a healthcare professional about how much Viagra is right for you. 

The standard dose of Viagra for ED is 50 mg taken as needed, about one hour before sexual activity. According to manufacturer instructions, patients should take Viagra only once per day on an as-needed basis unless otherwise advised by a doctor. 

A doctor may adjust someone’s dosage of Viagra based on their age and medical history. For example, men older than 65 or those with hepatic and renal impairment typically take a starting dose of 25 mg per day.  

The maximum recommended dose of Viagra is 100 mg, and the maximum frequency recommended for taking it is once per day. Taking higher doses of Viagra or taking it more often than prescribed won’t make the medication work better. This can cause side effects that could be life-threatening.

What to expect when taking Viagra

Just like with any medication, taking Viagra comes with the potential for experiencing side effects. These are the most common side effects of Viagra: 

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle pain
  • Indigestion 
  • Back pain
  • Dizziness 
  • Rash 

How long does Viagra last?

A single dose of Viagra will leave your system within eight hours, and almost all of it will be gone after 24 hours. You’ll see most of the common, minor side effects go away over that period of time, but the rarer, more severe side effects can be more permanent, says Aaron Emmel, Pharm.D., the founder and program director of pharmacytechscholar.com.

Serious side effects of Viagra

Viagra’s more serious side effects include allergic reactions, prolonged erections, vision loss, hearing loss, and blood pressure levels that can drop too low. 

Allergic reactions: If you’re taking Viagra and start to have difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, or hives, you should seek immediate medical attention as these are signs of an allergic reaction.  

Prolonged erections: “One of the most well-known side effects of Viagra is prolonged erections, which can be painful and cause permanent damage if it persists too long,” Dr. Emmel says. “Some underlying conditions make people more susceptible to this, including sickle cell anemia, multiple myeloma, and leukemia.” 

If you’re taking Viagra and have an erection that lasts longer than four hours (priapism), you should get emergency medical help as soon as possible. Take to your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing prolonged erections regularly.

Vision loss: According to Viagra’s official website, taking the medication can sometimes cause sudden vision loss in one or both eyes. This may be a sign of a serious eye problem called non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION). People who are taking Viagra and start to have vision changes should seek medical advice as soon as possible to avoid potential eye damage or loss of vision.      

Heart attack and stroke: The rarest side effects of Viagra are heart attacks and strokes. People with underlying heart problems, like irregular heartbeat, are the most at risk for having a heart attack or stroke from taking Viagra. Viagra isn’t offered to patients with low cardiac output states or those who are taking measures to prevent heart failure. Although the risk of heart attack and stroke is low, people with underlying heart problems should take extra care in talking with their doctor about their medical history. 

Viagra interactions

There are some drug-drug interactions with Viagra. “Individuals taking a class of drugs called nitrates should not take Viagra, as this combination can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure. This can cause a problem in individuals with certain types of heart disease or low blood pressure or in those taking certain types of blood pressure-lowering medications,” says Dr. Emmel.  You should not take Viagra with the following medications: 

  • Heart medications that contain nitrates such as amyl nitrate, nitroglycerin, and isosorbide
  • Blood pressure and pulmonary arterial hypertension medications like Revatio (sildenafil)
  • Vasodilators for chest pain
  • Treatments for HIV/AIDS such as ritonavir and saquinavir
  • Antifungals including ketoconazole and itraconazole
  • Certain antibiotics like erythromycin
  • Other ED medications, including Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) 

There might also be food-drug interactions with Viagra. For example, grapefruit can elevate blood levels, making it a natural alternative for treating ED. However, mixing it with Viagra could lead to some side effects like headaches, flushing, or low blood pressure. 

Caffeine could have a similar effect. One study concluded that an intake of two to three cups of coffee a day could reduce the odds of ED. There aren’t any known interactions between caffeine and Viagra, but minor side effects may still occur. Ask a doctor if there are any foods or beverages that you should avoid while taking Viagra.

RELATED: Is it safe to combine alcohol with Viagra?

The best way to avoid possible side effects from Viagra is to take it as instructed by your doctor. It’s also important to store Viagra correctly and to not take expired medication. Store Viagra at room temperature and away from moisture, heat, and sunlight to maximize its shelf-life. If you notice that your Viagra is expired, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you wait for a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day or check with your pharmacy to see if they take back expired medications.