Viagra: Don't Feed The Yaks

Scientists are testing Viagra on Mount Everest climbers. No, not for that. For pulmonary hypertension (PHT), a dangerous disorder in which blood pressure in the lung's main artery increases, impeding breathing. PHT kills several thousand Americans a year, and there's no cure. Because Viagra relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, lung experts are interested in its effect on PHT. Last year a group of German physicians reported that the drug helped relieve pressure--specifically in the lungs--in a group of 16 PHT patients and was more effective than available treatments. Now, with the help of 120 porters, 50 yaks, 6 Sherpas and funding from the German Research Foundation and drug manufacturer Pfizer, the docs will see if Viagra improves the lung function and exercise capacity of men and women exposed to the oxygen deprivation of thin air--a condition that mimics lung changes developed over years in PHT patients. The climbing world is buzzing about Viagra as an antidote to high altitudes, but, says team member Dr. Ardeschir Ghofrani, there's no evidence yet to support its use. No one on the team has complained about, ahem, side effects.

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