The drug study was small, and the participants were recruited via an Internet forum of people who were hardly objective—they all had suffered adverse side effects. But despite these cautions, the research recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine about the hair-loss drug Propecia was significant.
As noted on AboutLawsuits.com, the FDA announced in April that Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, would update the warning label on its packaging to make clear that the sexual side effects some men experienced might continue even after they no longer used the drug.
To call impotence and depression “sexual side effects” is to minimize the reality some men live with long after they give up a drug they hoped would address their concern about going bald.
The research from George Washington University concluded that erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, genital shrinkage and fuzzy thinking could be permanent for some men who used the drug (finasteride), which blocks production of a hormone (dihydrotestosterone, or DHT) that can cause “male pattern baldness.”
Some users have become severely depressed and one man reportedly committed suicide because of the effects of Propecia.
The drug was approved by the FDA in 1997, and until recently its label said sexual side effects were temporary, and would resolve if the user stopped taking it. Merck had updated Propecia’s label several years ago in countries where it was sold other than the U.S. But, according to AboutLawsuits, the company’s U.S. information continued to maintain that the sexual problems it reported during clinical trials would resolve when the drug was discontinued. Why patients in one country would respond differently from patients in another country, of course, defies scientific explanation.
The new study examined 54 men who had been diagnosed with persistent sexual problems after taking Propecia. They were otherwise healthy, young and had no previous history of sexual dysfunction. After nine to 16 months, more than 9 in 10 reported that they still suffered side effects. They had problems no matter how long they had taken Propecia. The lead researcher concluded that most men who experience Propecia-related sexual dysfunction longer than three months after they ceased taking it can expect the symptoms to persist for months or years.
Lawsuits over the adverse effects have proliferated for Propecia; its predecessor, Proscar, is a stronger formula and generally is prescribed to treat an enlarged prostate. It, too, now bears a new warning label.
Sometimes hair loss is due to factors other than genetics, such as thyroid or autoimmune disorders, fungal infections or emotional stress. Chemotherapy treatments as well can prompt hair loss. Before you consider pharmaceutical options to address baldness, consult your doctor to determine if you have an underlying medical condition. And make sure you read the information about Propecia and other drugs such as Rogaine (minoxidil).