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Viagra Connect is now available over the counter at Boots nationwide

Discreet and confidential, men can visit their local Boots pharmacy store for a brief consultation with a pharmacist, with no prescription required

The launch of Viagra in 1998 wasn’t so much the arrival of a new medicine as the dawn of a new era in erectile dysfunction management as doctors finally had an effective and straightforward treatment for this frustrating and distressing condition.

More than two decades later, Viagra Connect has now become the first erectile dysfunction medication to be available over the counter in Boots pharmacies – without needing a prescription.

The reality is that erectile dysfunction, defined as the persistent or recurrent inability to get or maintain an erection, affects many more men than people realise. In fact, it’s a normal problem that can occur at any age, says Donal O’Sullivan, the support pharmacist at Boots in Macroom, Co Cork.

"Men are reluctant to talk about it and there's a lot of embarrassment around it, but a lot of them probably don't know that it is quite common. One research study estimated the prevalence as high as 18 per cent in men," he explains1.

Yet it is believed that as many as two-thirds of all men with erectile dysfunction do not engage with a healthcare provider to seek advice or treatment. And while previously men had to first visit their GP to obtain a prescription, now they can purchase Viagra Connect from the pharmacy counter in their local Boots pharmacy following a brief chat with the pharmacist.

Simple and private

This is an easy and discreet process, O’Sullivan is keen to emphasise, noting that all pharmacies now have a private consultation area where they can have a “discreet and confidential” chat with the customer.

“We do a brief patient consultation with the person, making sure they feel comfortable. We take a few minutes to assess the suitability of Viagra Connect for the patient using a pharmacy consultation guide and we ask about medications they might be taking, and any medical conditions they might have. We emphasise that they should have a consultation with their doctor within six months of starting Viagra Connect to address any underlying causes for erectile dysfunction, or even if they are not suitable for Viagra Connect,” O’Sullivan says.

That’s because another common misperception is that erectile dysfunction is not a medical condition – when it very much is. Erectile dysfunction generally occurs because of diminished blood flow and Viagra Connect can help restore the supply by dilating blood vessels. This narrowing of the blood vessels can sometimes be an early warning of a more insidious condition and it is thought that up to four in five cases of erectile dysfunction are linked to an underlying disorder.

"You could have narrowing of the blood vessels due to heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. There could be hormonal issues, or it could be due to side effects from medication," O'Sullivan explains, adding that it is thought that psychological factors such as anxiety and depression could be responsible for up to one in 10 cases of erectile dysfunction2.

Lifestyle issues can play a significant role, and pharmacists can advise on dietary changes, smoking cessation, and reducing alcohol intake. Erectile dysfunction may also be an issue for some men following prostate surgery.

But by far one of the biggest impacts of erectile dysfunction is on a man’s quality of life – as well as his partner’s. “Your relationship satisfaction, your self-esteem, your self-confidence, it’s all impacted,” says O’Sullivan.

“That doesn’t even take into account the wider implications such as depression or the underlying medical condition that could be causing harm to other body organs.” He adds that broader accessibility to Viagra Connect can also help men to open up the conversation with their partner.

Given their location on the main street of most towns, pharmacies are often the first port of call for everyday health problems. O'Sullivan points out that pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals with a clear understanding of the difficulties of erectile dysfunction2.

He is enthusiastic about the launch of Viagra Connect over the counter at Boots, saying it will break down the barriers that often prevent men from seeking help for this normal but distressing condition. “Pharmacists are so accessible for people – here at Boots we are open seven days a week.

“I think this is a great development as men can be very slow to look after their health, especially their sexual health. This is not something that people have to put up with.”

Viagra Connect is available at the pharmacy counter at 86 Boots pharmacy stores nationwide. To find one near you, visit the store locator on the Boots.ie website.