Viagra: Not just for the bedroom anymore?

TAO-CHUAN YEH/AFP/Getty Images

We've all heard of Viagra, the little blue pill that helps increase blood flow to a certain male body part. But, many may not know that Viagra was originally tested for heart problems and chest pain associated with coronary heart disease.

According to new research published Monday in the journal BMC Medicine, Viagra could be used as a safe treatment for heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. The CDC reports about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year -- that's 1 in every 4 deaths.

Since entering the market in 1998, Viagra has had a profound impact on the sex of lives of about 35 million users, and that number continues to grow. Its early success was marred, however, by isolated reports of cardiovascular events and sudden deaths, and the drug was considered potentially dangerous for patients with heart disease.

Further studies clarified that these problems appeared to occur when Viagra was taken in combination with nitro compounds, researchers say, and were not a risk of the drug by itself.

The lead author of the new study, Andrea M. Isidori of the Department of Experimental Medicine at Sapienza University of Rome, says a compound in Viagra called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor (PDE5i) has actually been shown to help strengthen and improve heart function.

Isidori's research shows that taking Viagra on a consistent daily basis, as it was originally intended, can help people with heart disease.

"Our study is the first to show in a large patient cohort that chronic PDE5i administration improves cardiac output and decreases heart rate. This could result in longer survival, increased exercise tolerance and a better quality of life," Isidori said in a statement.

  • Parvati Shallow On Twitter»

    Parvati Shallow covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com