Viagra Maker Suggests Erectile Dysfunction Has a Surprising Effect at Work

A Pfizer-funded study eyes a whole new kind of performance. 

viagra, blue pill

No longer satisfied with its pivotal role in bedrooms across the world, the company behind Viagra now has its eye on enhancing a very different kind of performance. As a new study suggests, the company behind the little blue pill that’s been leading the way for erectile dysfunction treatment since 1998 has concerns about how diligently 52,000 men around the world are working at the office.

In a Pfizer-sponsored paper published in The International Journal of Clinical Practice, a team of reproductive health specialists suggest that erectile dysfunction (ED) may be negatively affecting men’s work habits. Specifically, it looks at how ED affects work productivity, as measured through rates of absenteeism and “presenteeism,” which is when a person shows up to work but has trouble performing duties or focusing due to health issues.

This study estimates that nearly 49.7 percent of their sample of 52,697 men had some type of ED symptoms. (It’s worth noting, however, that a review paper published in July showed that the prevalence of ED worldwide ranges from 3 percent to 76.6 percent, pointing out that differing ED screening tools around the world are a “a major source of discrepancy.”)

Nevertheless, it is true that ED impacts the sex lives of a number of men around the world. What these authors suggest is that those impacts affect men on the job, too. Using 2015 and 2016 data from US National Health and Wellness Surveys, they report that men with ED symptoms have significantly higher rates of work absenteeism (7 percent reported missing work) than those without ED symptoms (3.2 percent).

viagra
Pfizer, the company that sells Viagra, sponsored this study on ED and work performance. 

Meanwhile, 22.5 percent of men with ED symptoms also reported presenteeism, whereas only 10.1 percent of men without symptoms did the same.

Taking a more global perspective, the team also shows that men in the US had 2.11 times more work productivity impairments than men without ED. That was less in comparison to the UK, where men showed the most productivity impairment (2.66 times more), but more than Brazil, where men with ED showed the lowest amount of work impairment.

Could ED Cause Issues With Work Performance?

Previous work has shown that medical conditions outside of the world of ED play a huge role in presenteeism.

Several studies investigating the common causes of presenteeism suggest that the conditions that we usually associate with it are chronic and recurring — the kind you would be tempted to fight through during the workday. Two common examples are allergies and arthritis. More serious, chronic conditions also play roles in absenteeism. Depression, for example, has strong ties to both absenteeism and presenteeism. It’s not too much a stretch to suggest that ED might also affect how people perform at work, but it may not only be ED to blame for these work-related issues.

The authors also point out that ED is correlated with a number of other conditions like hypertension and diabetes: “It is possible that the same underlying factors that can lead to ED, such as obesity and unhealthy lifestyle, also contribute to increased risk of these diseases, thereby exacerbating patient burden.” It is possible that ED is another symptom of broader health-related issues that impact work and life quality.

Even after controlling for these conditions, the authors reported strong ties between ED and work performance, which they they backed up by administering surveys to men in the US, UK, China, Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil.

ED, viagra, work
Rates of presenteeism by country. In this study, men who reported some degree of ED symptoms had higher rates of presenteeism in every country compared to men with no ED symptoms. 

Pfizer’s Involvement

The authors are very forthcoming about where its funding came from, declaring funding from Pfizer, the company that produces Viagra (one of the authors is a full-time employee). In the late ‘90s, Pfizer researchers discovered its usefulness for ED while actually trying to treat cardiovascular problems. The, active ingredient in the little blue pill is known as sildenafil.

Pfizer owns a patent on Viagra until 2020, but in 2017 it reached an agreement with Teva Pharmaceuticals allowing the latter to sell a generic version of the drug. In 2020, Viagra sales are projected to drop as this cheaper generic version hits shelves.

Already, the Pfizer division known as Upjohn has seen a 9 percent decline in US revenues in the second quarter of 2019, in part “due to increased generic competition following Viagra’s December 2017 patent expiration,” according to an earnings report. Whether data showing that the pill may help prevent work absenteeism and presenteeism will improve sales remains to be seen.

Its industry funding aside, this paper presents large-scale evidence that ED can impact life in more than one way, which is a useful reminder that it can sometimes be part of a larger constellation of health issues. Even if it doesn’t drive people to buy any more Viagra, these numbers make more people aware of all the ways that health impacts their work performance.

Abstract:

Aim:To evaluate the association of erectile dysfunction (ED) with work productivity loss, activity impairment and health‐related quality of life (HRQoL) across Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US.

Methods:This cross‐sectional observational study used data from adult men (40‐70 years old; N = 52 697) from the 2015 and 2016 National Health and Wellness Surveys. ED assessment was based on self‐reported difficulty in achieving or maintaining an erection in the past 6 months. Impairment to work and non‐work activities and HRQoL were assessed for each country and compared against the US. Multivariable models tested interactions between ED status and country for each outcome.

Results: Overall ED prevalence was reported as 49.7%, with Italy reporting the highest rate (54.7%). Men with ED reported significantly higher absenteeism (7.1% vs 3.2%), presenteeism (22.5% vs 10.1%), overall work productivity impairment (24.8% vs 11.2%), activity impairment (28.6% vs 14.5%) and significantly lower Mental Component Summary scores (MCS; 46.7 vs 51.2), Physical Component Summary scores (PCS; 48.3 vs 53.0), and health state utilities (SF‐6D: 0.693 vs 0.778; all, P < 0.001) than men with no ED. After adjusting for covariates, compared with the US, the association of ED status with overall work productivity impairment was greatest in the UK (26% higher; P < 0.05), and with MCS, PCS and SF‐6D scores was greatest in China (−2.67, −1.58, and −0.043 points, respectively; all, P < 0.001). Greater ED severity was significantly associated with higher impairment to work and non‐work activities and lower HRQoL, with China reporting the highest burden, compared with the US (most P < 0.05).

Conclusion: ED poses a significant burden with respect to work productivity and HRQoL, with greater severity associated with worse outcomes. Better management and earlier detection may help reduce this burden, especially in countries reporting a strong association between ED and poor economic and health outcomes.