Baldness drug Propecia 'could cause permanent impotence and shrink genitals in some men' as one patient claims it shrank his genitals
Doctor reveals twenty percent of patients he interviewed for Propecia study experienced persistent sexual dysfunction for more than five years'I should have been warned', says patient who claims drug shrunk his genitals
13:15 GMT, 12 July 2012
Men taking medication for hair loss may suffer from prolonged and possibly irreversible impotence, according to scientists.
The recent findings come after one patient bravely stepped forward to reveal the drug left him with no sex drive and even shrank his genitals.
Kevin Malley, 30, was prescribed with the drug Propecia after he worried he could be losing his hair. He said he only planned to take the pill for a year.
Concern: Men worried about losing their hair may consider treatments such as Propecia. However in the UK the drug label warns about possible 'persistent' sexual side effects
However, just five months after he started taking it in May 2011 he found he was completely impotent and his testes also became smaller. Worried, he consulted his doctor and was told the symptoms would disappear after he stopped taking the drug. But he says a year on and nothing has changed.
It will come as no surprise to Dr Michael Irwig from the University of Washington.
He recently published a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, that found the ingredient finasteride, which is found in Propecia, can cause persistent sexual dysfunction, including low sexual desire, erectile dysfunction and problems with orgasms. The male pattern baldness drug is manufactured by Merck and was approved by the FDA in 1997.
While labeling on the medication in the U.S. currently warns about possible reversible sexual side effects, there is no reference to the effects being persistent, Dr Irwig said.
However, other countries including the UK and Sweden do require medical companies to include the 'persistent risk' warning on the labeling.
It was reported that Wayne Rooney started taking the medication in 2009 after he became sick of other footballer's jibes about his receding hairline. He has since had a hair transplant.
Unfortunate side-effects Wayne Rooney was reported to be taking Propecia in 2009. It has since been linked with impotence
Dr Irwig first became aware of the problems caused by finasteride several years ago when he encountered several men who reported they had developed sexual dysfunction while taking the medication.
'It’s been very frustrating for a lot of these men because they’ve sought care from medical professionals who have looked at the literature and have not seen a risk of persistent sexual dysfunction,' says Dr Irwig.
'So a lot of these patients have been told to see psychiatrists and psychologists and that it’s all in their head.'
Dr Irwig then noticed that men had reported sexual dysfunction for months even after they stopped taking the medication.
'I came across a website called propeciahelp.com with more than 1,400 registered users – many young healthy men who developed the same sexual side effects from finasteride – and I discovered that nobody had published a series looking at these men – who they are, how long the sexual side effects lasted, what types.'
Dr Irwig’s study included results from interviews with 71 men aged 21 to 46 years old to assess how long they took finasteride, the type and duration of sexual side effects and their sexual frequency before and after the medication.
Dr Irwig discovered that 94 per cent developed low libido, 92 per cent developed erectile dysfunction and decreased arousal, and 69 per cent developed problems with orgasm.
On average, the men used finasteride for approximately 28 months but experienced persistent sexual side effects for an average of 40 months, from the time they ceased taking the medication to the time of the interview.
Dr Irwig also found that the average number of sexual episodes per month dropped after finasteride use.
'It turns out that almost all the men had multiple sexual function problems,' says Dr Irwig.
'Before finasteride use, the men experienced average sexual activity of approximately 26 episodes per month, but after use, it came down to approximately eight per month – an almost two-thirds reduction.'
'Twenty percent of patients I interviewed experienced persistent sexual dysfunction for more than five years, which makes me wonder if their persistent sexual dysfunction is permanent,' he adds.
Controversial: Merck says no evidence has proved a causal relationship between Propecia and long-lasting sexual dysfunction
This was certainly Mr Malley's experience. He told Good Morning America: 'I kept expecting the side effects to go away, but they did not, they only got worse.'
Mr Malley said before he took the drug he was engaged and worked as a public health researcher at a university in Las Vegas.
After he developed symptoms his fiancee broke off the engagement and he said he had to resign from his job because of cognitive problems. He said he is angry noone warned him the drug could have such lasting effects.
'Even if the side effects are rare, that doesn't mean that I should not
have been warned. I did have a life before this,' he told Good Morning America.
Dr Irwig said roughly five per cent of men who take medicine will experience sexual dysfunction, but that 'out of that 5 percent, it’s hard to tell how many will experience persistent symptoms.'
'We know that this is a potential problem, but we can’t quantify what the exact risk is. I can’t tell a man if he has a 1-in-100 chance, or a 1-in-1000 chance of developing persistent sexual dysfunction, but it’s pretty clear there’s a relationship here,' he says.
Topical Rogaine can be used as an alternative to Propecia – applied directly on the skin, it does not get absorbed by body and thus does not cause sexual side effects – but Dr. Irwig says Propecia is very effective in treating hair loss and thus is commonly prescribed.
So Dr Irwig says it is crucial physicians treating male pattern hair loss discuss the possibility of persistent sexual side effects associated with finasteride with their patients.
'I think it’s very important that doctors who are prescribing this medicine talk about potential risks, so men can make an informed decision,' he said.
In a statement, Merck said no evidence has proved a causal relationship between Propecia and long-lasting sexual dysfunction.