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Drs. Oz and Roizen: Before you pop that little pink pill

The first prescription drug for women with low sexual desire was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (there are 26 FDA-approved treatments for men). It’s for the estimated one in 12 American women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a troubling drop in interest in sex that can strain relationships and cancel out one of life’s great joys.

The medication is called Addyi (pronounced ADD-ee) from Sprout Pharmaceuticals, and it’s controversial. Here are five things you should know about the “Pink Pill” and low sexual desire before asking for a prescription.

1. It’s not like Viagra Addyi (flibanserin) doesn’t work like ED drugs for men (Viagra and Cialis). You don’t pop one right before you slide between the sheets and – presto – your sex organ is functional. A woman would have to take Addyi every day. And while studies suggest that it can increase the amount of satisfying sex a woman has, it’s not designed specifically to help women have an orgasm. Things that increase blood flow – like exercise; more fruits and veggies, especially watermelon; fewer toxins such as tobacco; and better stress management – do that. They also help men overcome ED.

2. Nobody’s sure how Addyi works… And the benefits are modest. The drug, developed originally as an antidepressant, increases levels of the brain chemical serotonin. But researchers aren’t sure how this stirs desire, an elusive urge governed by emotions, hormones, state of mind, time and place. In a trio of studies, women with low sexual desire who took Addyi for six months reported that the number of satisfying sexual experiences they had per month increased from about two to three per month to two and half to four per month. And while 51 percent of Addyi users reported an increase in desire, so did 38 percent of those who had received a placebo.

3. It’s got side effects and one big risk Common side effects include dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, fatigue, insomnia and dry mouth. Also, women cannot drink alcohol while using it. A boxed warning – the FDA’s strongest type of drug warning – cautions that the combination can cause low blood pressure and fainting. And doctors will be expected to screen women for alcohol use before prescribing Addyi.

4. It’s not “magic” Low sexual desire has many causes and deserves a frank conversation with your doctor, not just a prescription. An estimated 8.3 percent of women have hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Hormonal shifts around menopause play a role for some women. Widely used medications, like antidepressants and beta-blockers for high blood pressure, also can torpedo female libido. So can common medical conditions like diabetes and depression. A host of other health issues, such as problems with pelvic-floor muscles, can make sex painful. Relationship problems can be a major factor. In fact, Addyi’s not FDA-approved for ANY of those circumstances. It got the OK for premenopausal women whose low libido isn’t caused by relationship issues, health problems or medication side effects.

So when should you take it? If you’re never in the mood, see your doctor for a checkup to rule out or treat health issues. Think about what was going on in your relationship when your sex drive plummeted. If you can uncover the problems, you can start dealing with them. If you’re having vaginal pain, talk with your gynecologist about solutions. Try changing things up in the bedroom in ways both of you find exciting, including plenty of kissing and touching. Sometimes – and this is true only if you’re in a mutually respectful relationship – sex drive blooms after intimacy begins.

5. There’s controversy While some women’s health advocates hailed the FDA’s approval as a landmark, hundreds of scientists and health advocates wrote to the FDA warning about side effects for women who drink alcohol. More wrote in objecting to the idea that the solution for women’s low sexual desire should be a pill. We say that sometimes it may help, just don’t make it your first stop.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Buffalo native Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.