ED Treatment

Viagra Headaches: Causes, Treatments, & Preventions

July 8, 2022

Medically reviewed by

David Culpepper, MD

Viagra® is one of the most popular male-specific drugs in the world and is one of the most effective options for managing erectile dysfunction (ED).

Just like any other medication, however, Viagra can come with several side effects for some men.

The most common Viagra side effect is headaches. Roughly 25% of men that are prescribed Viagra (or the generic form called sildenafil) have reported varying degrees of headaches. 

Here’s why a Viagra headache happens, how you can treat it, and the bottom line on Viagra headache prevention.

Why Does Viagra Cause Headaches? 

The active ingredient in Viagra is sildenafil, a phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor that works in the body by helping to dilate the blood vessels and relax the smooth muscles in your penis. As a result, more blood travels into the soft tissues of your penis and to create and maintain an erection. 

During an erection, the penis can contain seven times it's normal, flaccid blood volume. 

This dramatic change in blood flow can have a substantial impact on the rest of your body.

For example, another common side effect of Viagra is flushing in your face or other regions. Flushing is the result of excess blood flowing into an area of skin. Your blood vessels enlarge to compensate and your skin become “flushed,” giving off a rosy red or blushing appearance.

These blood flow changes are also what can cause Viagra headaches!

Just like with skin flushing, too much blood to the brain can cause blood vessels in and on your brain to dilate. When these vessels start to expand, they can make contact with the nerves surrounding them. These nerves can then send messages to your brain indicating that your head and face are in pain. 

It’s also possible that sildenafil and drugs like it (including Cialis®/tadalafil and Levitra®/vardenafil) could be sending too much blood away from your brain into other areas of your body. This effect decrease in blood flow to your brain can result in a headaches as well. 

Any imbalance of the blood flow to your brain, either increasing or decreasing, can result in a headache.

The good news is the effects of a Viagra headache should only last as long as Viagra is in your system. 

Although technically Viagra can remain in your system for around 24 hours, the effects are usually only felt for the first five hours at most. Depending on your age, metabolism, and dose, the effects might disappear in even less time. 

How Can You Treat Viagra-Induced Headaches?

The overall strength of your Viagra headache should diminish as the effects of Viagra wear off. For some people, unfortunately, this can take a few hours.

Here are a few ways you can treat or get rid of a Viagra headache in the meantime:

  • Drink plenty of water. A common cause of headaches is dehydration. In fact, it’s dehydration that typically causes headaches during hangovers. Even if the headache wasn’t caused by being dehydrated, drinking water can help reduce headache severity. In addition, drinking more water can speed up your body’s filtration process and help get the Viagra out of your body faster. 
  • Take some headache medicine. There have been no dangerous interactions associated with combining sildenafil and ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, or paracetamol. Taking a normal dose of these over the counter headache relievers should have no negative side effects for healthy adults and can help relieve your headache.
  • Drink some caffeine. Whether it’s coffee, tea, or even a soda, caffeine can help reduce your headache. Caffeine is considered a vasoconstrictor, which means it can narrow your blood vessels. By doing so, it can reduce the expansion of the blood vessels in your brain that are causing the aching sensation.  
  • Turn off the lights. Looking at bright lights (especially fluorescent lights or screens) can activate certain nerve cells in your brain and increase the pain in your head. Turning off the lights or dimming them as much as possible can prevent the headache from getting worse.

Can You Prevent Viagra-Induced Headaches? 

There is no trick to avoiding a headache from Viagra (sildenafil), and this side effect will only affect a small portion of men.

There are things you can for a better shot at limiting the severity of the side effects.

  • Take a lower dose. It’s possible that you're simply taking too much Viagra and the side effects are completely avoidable. The most common prescribed dose of Viagra is 50mg, but there are plenty of men prescribed a 100mg dose. Talk to your prescribing doctor about trying a lower dose (25 or 50mg) and see if that helps with your headaches. 
  • Eat something beforehand. Although Viagra is recommended for use on an empty stomach, consider eating a light meal about an hour before taking Viagra. It’s possible that the effects of sildenafil are just strong for your particular physiology. Eating something light (be sure to avoid heavy or fatty meals) might help your body process the drug more slowly. This might help with reducing side effects while still providing an erection.
  • Try a different medication. Viagra is one of several medications for erectile dysfunction. If you're experiencing headaches using Viagra (sildenafil), talk with your doctor about trying tadalafil (Cialis®) or vardenafil (Levitra®). These medications are also PDE5 inhibitors, but they come in different dose sizes and have slightly different chemical makeups that might help reduce the frequency or severity of any side effects. 

The Takeaway

About a quarter of men who try Viagra will experience a transient headache as a result of how this medication works. Fortunately, this headache should only last as long as the medication is in your system, though it may last 1 to 4 hours.

Viagra doe not interact with most common over the counter headache medicines, so you can treat your Viagra headache in the same way that you would under normal circumstances. 

If your headache is happening every time that you take Viagra or generic sildenafil, or they're intense in severity, talk to your doctor about whether Viagra is right for you. A lower dose or an alternative medication may be worth trying, or you may have an undiagnosed underlying medical condition worth evaluating.

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Sources

Sildenafil can induce the onset of a cluster headache bout | NCBI

Phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) Inhibitors In the Management of Erectile Dysfunction | NCBI

Flushed skin: Causes and when to see a doctor | Medical News Today

What causes headaches? | Scientific American

Thunderclap Headaches | American Migraine Foundation

How Long Does Viagra Last & Stay in Your System? | MedExpress

Dehydration and Headache. | NCBI

Sildenafil | Medline Plus

Does caffeine treat or trigger headaches?. | Mayo Clinic

Light and Headache Disorders: Understanding Light Triggers and Photophobia | Headaches.org

Sildenafil in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: an overview of the clinical evidence. | NCBI

Four-Year Review of Sildenafil Citrate | NCBI