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The History of Finasteride / Propecia
In 1997, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. introduced Propecia as a new use for finasteride, a synthetic compound the company developed five years earlier. Originally marketed as Proscar, doctors first prescribed 5 mg of finasteride to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), more commonly known as an enlarged prostate gland. Merck later discovered a remarkable side effect of the Proscar treatment — some patients started to grow hair. By dropping the dose of finasteride to 1 mg, researchers found a way to correct male pattern baldness, a hereditary condition that affects close to 50 percent of the male population.
With nearly half a billion dollars of research behind it, Propecia entered the drug market to high acclaim. After its first year, approximately 400,000 men in the United States were filling prescriptions for Propecia and taking the drug daily. Although Merck provided the early Propecia users with a list of sexual side effects researchers uncovered in clinical trials, it later came to light that the company wasn’t telling the whole story.
Finasteride / Propecia Treatments
Propecia belongs to a class of drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, which are used to treat conditions stimulated by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a potent hormone the body creates from testosterone. DHT induced conditions include androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness), benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) and prostate cancer.
In people genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness, DHT binds to receptors in hair follicles at the top of the scalp. When the DHT hormone acts on these follicles, they shrink and gradually lose the ability to grow thick and healthy hair. As a result, the person’s hairline thins and recedes. Hair follicles on the back and side of the head are genetically resistant to DHT, which explains the common pattern seen in male baldness. Nearly 35 million men in the United States alone suffers from this type of hair loss.
With Propecia, the active ingredient finasteride causes a rapid decline in DHT concentration to combat male pattern baldness. Within 24 hours of taking Propecia, the concentration of DHT drops by 65 percent. The full effects of Propecia can take three months or more to appear.
Finasteride / Propecia Side Effects
The most common side effects associated with Propecia include:
Decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, ejaculation disorder, male infertility and testicular pain.
Depression and anxiety.
Allergic reactions, including rash, itching, hives and swelling of the lips and face.
Breast enlargement and tenderness as well as male breast cancer.
The most frequently reported adverse reactions to Propecia affect men’s sexual health. The USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis of adverse event data revealed a wide range of sexual side effects in otherwise healthy Propecia users ages 21 to 46. These problems persisted for an average of 2 years after the men ceased treatment. In some cases, sexual function never returns to normal.
While the sexual side effects and cancer risks associated with Propecia use only affect a small percentage of users, these problems can take a drastic emotional toll on patients. Persistent sexual dysfunction, even after the end of treatment, can destroy personal relationships and diminish quality of life.
Hundreds of men have decided to take legal action against Merck, claiming the company omitted important information about long-term side effects from Propecia’s safety label. These men hope to receive compensation for the damaging effects Propecia caused.
By April 2012, there were Propecia lawsuits against Merck all related to persistent sexual dysfunction. The lawsuits against Merck had grown to more than 700 with hundreds more still coming in every year.