Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects the sexual lives of millions of men. The first-line oral pharmacotherapy for most ED patients is phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors, of which three are available. Sildenafil is the most widely prescribed oral agent for ED and has a very satisfactory efficacy-safety profile in all patient categories. Tadalafil and vardenafil were introduced in the European Union and in the United States in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The three PDE-5 inhibitors share many pharmacological and clinical characteristics, and each has unique features. This review, which is based on the contemporary literature on PDE-5 inhibitors, describes the chemical, pharmacological, and clinical features of sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. The first section reviews the pathophysiology of penile erection and PDE-5 inhibitor pharmacology. The second section summarizes data regarding efficacy and safety of the three drugs in treating ED in the general population as well as in selected patient categories.
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