The Risks of Propecia - Real or Imagined?

It is impossible to deny that treatments do not carry risks with them. Anyone who has ever bought a treatment, even as basic as paracetamol, has seen the long list of common and uncommon side effects on their leaflets. Whilst common side effects of most treatments are not alarming, some treatments can produce side effects that would make a person think twice before taking it.

One of those treatments is Propecia, which is used to target hair loss. It has long been used as the key treatment for hair-loss among millions of men and recently attracted some attention due to lawsuits filed in the US and Canada. But do these trials tell us of an undiscovered risk for all patients?

The most up to date figure suggests that 740 cases have been set up against Propecia MDL. There is currently no information on the outcome of these lawsuits as they are still pending. The key concern of the lawsuits appears to be that the manufacturing company (Merck) has not provided sufficient warning that Propecia could cause sexual dysfunction. Besides the lawsuits, there have also been isolated incidents where individuals have spoken to media about the side effects they were experiencing relating to sexual dysfunction ranging from impotence to breast development. You can read more about this subject here.

Based on the above information there is no denying that the use of Propecia, which also goes under the name finasteride, can have its risks. In fact, these risks are advertised in the leaflet. However, this leaflet clearly states that the adverse effects are only common in a very small sub-group of patients and that they will cease once a person stops using the treatment. Whilst the latter has been supported by clinical trials, the patients in the lawsuit allege that the side-effects are permanent. There is no evidence to date that supports this allegation. You can see the full patient information leaflet for Propecia that details all the registered side effects at the electronic medical compendium.

It is important that the allegations from the patients are taken seriously as they point to particularly undesirable side-effects. From a clinical point of view it is also important that any allegations are investigated critically and that guidelines are based on empirical evidence of large groups of patients. It would show for poor practice and irresponsibility if a doctor were prescribing a treatment that would harm patients. It would also be poor practice if a doctor stopped prescribing a treatment to all eligible patients because they believed that the side-effects of a few applied to all. So where does this leave the millions of men seeking treatment for hair-loss? There have been academic studies targeting this area for research but some of these have come in for criticism from UK doctors who believe that the studies are flawed. You can read a particularly excoriating review of one of there studies here. We should point out that this blog entry is on a website that prescribes Propecia but they are ethical and highly regarded in the UK so we are sure that they have made an independent asessment of the academic papers before forming a view.

As with any treatment, this whole are of side effects points out the importance of being informed about the risks and being alert to any side effects a person may experience. The best way to do that is to have honest discussions with trustworthy medical practitioners rather than doing independent "research" online.