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Men Say Hair Loss Drug Causes Sexual Problems And Depression

Evening Edition

Above: Imagine taking a drug to cure a nagging condition, only to discover that it has debilitating side effects. A growing number of men say that’s the case with the hair-loss drug Propecia. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg tells us many patients complain Propecia causes depression and a total loss of sexual function. And it’s not unusual for these problems to continue even after men stop taking the drug.

Aired 5/21/13 on KPBS News.

The most popular drug for hair loss in men, Propecia, can cause debilitating side effects, including loss of sexual function and depression.

— Imagine taking a drug to cure a nagging condition, only to discover that it has debilitating side effects.

Flickr / CS Chen

A growing number of men say the hair loss drug, Propecia, has caused them to be depressed and lose sexual function.

A growing number of men say that’s the case with the hair loss drug Propecia. Many patients complain Propecia causes depression and a total loss of sexual function. And it’s not unusual for these problems to continue even after men stop taking the drug.

When he turned 40, a man we’ll call John Davis had a hair transplant. His surgeon suggested he take Propecia to fill in his bald spots. Davis did not want his real name used.

Two months after he began taking the drug, Davis became extremely depressed. He couldn’t figure it out.

“There was nothing that was lacking in my life at all, so I had absolutely no reason to be depressed," Davis recalled. "But yet, I was sliding down into probably the worst depression imaginable. It just didn’t make any sense at all.”

He said he started suffering from sexual problems. His wife asked him what was wrong. Davis didn’t know.

He visited a number of therapists and medical specialists. Over the years, the North County resident took six different anti-depressants. Nothing helped.

Then, Davis discovered a website called propeciahelp.com. It’s a forum for men who’ve suffered side effects from Propecia.

That was a wake up call for Davis. After four years of taking Propecia, he quit. And that’s when things really went downhill.

“My endocrine system crashed," he said. "My hormones were so far out of whack that it was causing erratic behaviors, erratic thoughts and uncontrollable emotions and crying and curled up on the couch for weeks, months.”

Davis went into fits of rage. He took his anger out on his friends, his wife and his kids.

"It was my goal in life, really, to be the best dad I could ever be. And to see that dream slip away, it’s like, I can’t repair it,” Davis said.

The FDA has been logging complaints from men who take Propecia. The agency says adverse reactions include depression and sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction.

The FDA says it’s reviewed 421 cases of Propecia-related problems. Fourteen percent lasted more than three months after men stopped taking the drug.

As a result, the FDA last year required Propecia to have more explicit warning labels.

Propecia’s side effects are called Post-Finasteride Syndrome, named after one of the drug’s active ingredients. The syndrome’s been the subject of medical meetings and a number of lawsuits.

Certified sex therapist Douglas Braun-Harvey, who has a long-standing practice in San Diego, said some of his patients have suffered horribly from Propecia.

“This is terrible, that people are thinking they’re making a fairly benign decision," he explained. "You know, okay, I don’t like my hair going away, so I’ll just take this medication. It seems like a kind of a no-brainer of a decision. And they’re completely unaware of the devastation.”

Braun-Harvey said one of the worst things is the uncertainty.

“Men don’t know if they’re going to recover their sexual functioning or not," he said. "They have to stop taking the medication and then they have to kind of see over time how their body’s going to repair. And that’s — can you imagine how terrifying that would be?”

One of the foremost authorities for sexual problems in San Diego is Dr. Irwin Goldstein. He’s president of the Institute for Sexual Medicine.

Goldstein suspects there are many men who’ve taken Propecia who are too embarrassed to admit they’ve had a problem. Even so, Goldstein says he’s had dozens of patients who have stepped forward.

Goldstein said libido loss is the number one complaint.

“They’ll see a person of the gender that excites them. And, intellectually, they know that they’re still supposed to be excited by that person, but they’re not," Goldstein explained. "That person could be like a car or a tree or a bridge or a mountain. It’s not doing anything for them, but they want it to do them for it, but it isn’t doing it. So, it’s a very frustrating form of libido loss. It’s probably a cognitive change, and it’s because this medicine has the ability to change the chemicals in the brain.”

Dr. Goldstein believes most healthcare providers aren’t aware of the dangers of Propecia, so they don’t tell patients they could lose their desire for sex.

“So they’re not warned at all about this potential side effect," he said. "They may be told there are temporary sexual problems that are rare, but that’s the extent of the warning.”

The maker of Propecia, Merck, refused to be interviewed for this story. In a written statement, the company said it stands behind Propecia and that millions of men have taken it since it first came on the market in 1997.

That’s no consolation to 46-year-old Bob Webb; also not his real name. He took Propecia for four years to combat hair loss. Webb said not only was the drug ineffective, but it caused terrible sexual problems.

Webb said he agreed to be interviewed so he could issue a warning.

“Whereas, I might not be able do anything about my situation, there are likely a lot of men out there who are thinking about taking this medication," Webb said. "And my message to them today would be to not do that.”

Comments

Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 17, 2013 at 8:54 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Curled up on the couch and crying for months? months?? that is ridiculous.

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Avatar for user 'johndavis'

johndavis | May 17, 2013 at 9:42 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

JeanMarc, "curled up on the couch for months, with many bouts of crying spells". Does that quote work better for you? Think that's easy to admit? Would you be satisfied if my wife and kids testified to this fact?
This story only captured a few sound bytes from a long interview. And you chose to select something to criticize instead of showing any concern for the thousands of Men suffering from PFS?! You are either a heartless person, or have a vested interest in protecting Merck.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 17, 2013 at 10:57 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Sorry, I was suspicious that you were lying to win some lawsuit but if it really did cast you into such a state of despair I apologize. I hope you feel better some day.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | May 17, 2013 at 11:17 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Read the list of side effects that is packed with it before you complain.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 17, 2013 at 11:18 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

That's why I'm bald. lol

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 17, 2013 at 11:22 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

It is a historical fact, that male baldness, among other things, was virtually unknown in the New World before the Europeans arrived. It is worth looking further into this.

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Avatar for user 'jorbie'

jorbie | May 17, 2013 at 2:33 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Mmikey - that is the problem. Merck sold the drug with two warning labels - one in Europe with warnings of permanent side effects, the warning label in the US said only 2% get side effects and they go away once you stop. They kept the separate labels for almost 3 years until the FDA stepped in. Why do you think they did that?
And as a victim as well - I don't want money. I don't need money. I want a cure. That is why there is a lawsuit....there has never been a drug like this that has caused permanent side effects without a known cause or a known cure. Its scary as hell - I want to have my normal life back - but I don't know if or when that will happen. Merck won't help us on their own - they could care less about people - just profit.
You want to talk about scary - in addition to no interest in sex - this is a symptom myself and many Propecia victims suffer from: completely NUMB penile tissue. How F****** up is that! Enjoy your penis and be glad if you didn't take this drug - you didn't just dodge a bullet, you dodged a sexual nuclear bomb.

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Avatar for user 'Alex_Grebenshchikov'

Alex_Grebenshchikov | May 17, 2013 at 2:37 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

The hair loss drug causes sexual problems and depression, but some men feel that hair loss causes sexual problems and depression... quite a conundrum. Be bald and happy!

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 17, 2013 at 2:49 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

I am going to wax my scalp in honour of the victims of Propecia.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 17, 2013 at 3:24 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Propecia is essentially a lower dose version of Finasteride, a medication used to treat prostate problems.

Since Finasteride is higher dosage, were these problems found more frequently or with increased severity in patients taking that medication ?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 17, 2013 at 3:36 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

By the way, for those of you who think these types of things can't happen, I can tell you they do. The drug companies don't always acknowledge or even know the existence of or severity of every side effect.

I take Zyrtec over the counter for allergies. A couple years ago I stopped it or a week and was stricken with severe itching. When I say severe, I mean itching like you have never known could exist unless you experienced it. It was so bad I was not able o function normally. Even the inside of my mouth itched. Pharmacist, doctor said it couldn't be the Zyrtec. Zyrtec label said nothing about itching.

Finally, much like the man in this article, I found an online forum of people who had the same experience as me when stopping Zyrtec. I started it again and within a couple hours the itching stopped.

It's very important that when something like this happens, you call the drug maker of whatever you are taking and tell them you want to report an Adverse Event. By law, these drug companies must document the event as you detail to them and, if they get enough reports, they have to add the warnings to their labels.

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Avatar for user 'jorbie'

jorbie | May 17, 2013 at 4:26 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

"some men feel that hair loss causes sexual problems and depression"....so going bald causes 20ish and 30ish otherwise healthy men to lose interest in sex, have no feeling in their penis, become insomniacs, and have abnormal blood tests? Please explain.....

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Avatar for user 'jorbie'

jorbie | May 17, 2013 at 4:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Also - can one of the trolls please give me a valid reason for a drug company to have two different labels in different continents? Why were European men warned of permanent damage, and US men not?

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Avatar for user 'jorbie'

jorbie | May 17, 2013 at 4:33 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Jean Marc - once you are done waxing your head for the victims of Propecia - could use also help us find a cure by donating to the PFS foundation? Thanks!

pfsfoundation.org

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 17, 2013 at 5:38 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Peking Duck were you ever able to stop taking Zyrtec without that itching? Or do you have to take it forever?

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Avatar for user 'jorbie'

jorbie | May 17, 2013 at 6:38 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Jean Marc - Engage man! Don't be the passive-aggressive troll!! They are no fun....c'mon...I want to hear your insight....why do you think Merck would sell a drug for almost 3 years with two different warnings?

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | May 18, 2013 at 7:21 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Of course their buddies at pfitzer are happy to sell them viagra.

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Avatar for user 'Iron_Merck'

Iron_Merck | May 18, 2013 at noon ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Standing here
I realize
You are just like me
Trying to make history
But who's to judge
The right from wrong
When our guard is down
I think we'll both agree
That
Violence breeds violence
But in the end it has to be this way
I've carved my own path
You followed your wrath
But maybe we're both the same
The world has turned
And so many have burned
But nobody is to blame
Yet staring across this barren wasted land
I feel new life will be born
Beneath the blood stained sand

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Avatar for user 'Crolley40'

Crolley40 | May 19, 2013 at 5:27 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Man! I can't empathize more with many of the rest in addition to a few who went through this terrifying experience after regularly taking this testesterone diminishing anti libido hair medication. Though this isn't available over the counter and doctor's prescription is required, the medicinal effect or prognosis explained by the clinic is that everything will be fine with just temporarily dwindled functionality from men's hormone testesterone and this imperilment will quickly disappear once I stop taking this drug, but this was found to be contrary to my experience once I started taking them. Effectiveness of this drug in significant delinquency in the rate & ratio of N.of hair loss plus potentially a new growth (that won't be pull off easily) was generally perceived as a positive confirmation by the medical community in this profession, and the benefit calculation far outweighed the possible side effect as temporary halt of libido. And I had to beg my family(parents) who strongly suggested me to keep on taking this drug, but eventually after experiencing some visible downside in my emotion, kind of gloomy mood without visible reason why! and talking with other psychic therapists (in combination of multiple causes & problems like complusive gaming habit,etc) about this mood swing, parents eventually agreed I don't have to take this medication any longer if I chose not to. But I had to honest tell people here it had a prolonged impact in my sexual life (though I was single /still AM) in not feeling attracted with whom I'm supposed to feel otherwise. And in other cases, it's kind of embarassing to eleborate here but, I attmepted that as an exit to relieve my stress adequately however, the physical mechanism simply won't work (as it's supposed to prior to taking it) and how horrible this can be only the experienced with this type of pill can agree with me.
So what happened to my hair loss? Thanks to some of cautionary approaches as far as hair loss is concerned, other natural remedies as adequate fiber & nutrient rich meals, avoidance of direct exposure to sunlight, positive mindset (hair loss is closely linked to stress factor also), regular lifestyle (during the irregualar habits in U.S the bulk of it were gone!), and use of lesser harmful chemical shampoos, all contributed to a measurable stagnation in hair loss progression. Now hair loss is a lesser important issue to me to maintain my self image (outward appearance at the least), but I'm using my wig mostly wearing it only when I feel necessary- formal gathering, etc.
Some don't have a favorable view on wigs (from mostly their prejudice on wearing one) but I find it very useful occasionally, and it doesn't dent an inch on my self dignity or pride. Outer appearance doesn't define my personal character, or priority !

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Avatar for user 'johndavis'

johndavis | June 19, 2013 at 9:08 a.m. ― 1 year, 1 month ago

Maybe the list of side effects from PFSFoundation.org can help everyone understand the scope of this problem. It's not just about sexual side effects or libido...

**Sexual**
Libido
Decreased or complete loss of sex drive
Erection
Erectile dysfunction, impotence
Loss of morning and spontaneous erections

Orgasm Disorders
Sexual anhedonia, loss of pleasurable orgasm

Ejaculatory Disorders
Decreased semen volume and force

Penis
Penile shrinkage and numbness
Peyronie’s disease

Testes
Scrotal shrinkage and numbness

**Physical**

Gynecomastia
Female-like breast development and enlargement

Fatigue
Chronic fatigue, listlessness

Muscle
Muscle atrophy, weakness
Muscle twitching

Skin
Decreased oil and sebum production
Chronically dry, thinning of skin

Metabolism
increased fat deposition, obesity and elevated body mass index
decrease in body temperature
Reduced HDL cholesterol, raised fasting glucose and triglycerides

**Mental & Neurological**

Memory
Severe memory/recall impairment

Cognition
Slowed thought processes
Impaired problem solving, decreased comprehension

Psychological
Depression
Anxiety

Emotional
Emotional flatness and anhedonia(loss of interest in doing anything)

Sleep
Insomnia

I'd like to see a more in depth story on the total list. And an investigation about Bosley who knew about the side effects and stood against Propecia until someone changed his mind at Merck. Money is the motivator. Then there's the FDA... where the hell were they when the first reports came in? More than 400 cases had to be reported before anyone noticed. And they STILL have not pulled this drug from the market!!

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Avatar for user 'Iron_Merck'

Iron_Merck | June 20, 2013 at 2:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 1 month ago

A little birdie gave me some insider dates to look out for when it comes to generic 1mg finasteride (aka generic Propecia) that I thought I’d share –

Nov 19, 2012 - Merck’s patent on Propecia expired
Jan 1, 2013 - Jun 30, 2013 - Dr. Reddy has exclusive FDA approval to make generic 1mg finasteride. Currently 90 days of generic 1mg finasteride can run as high as $100 ($95-125).

Jul 1, 2013 - Two additional companies will start making generic and price will drop by about 50% or $50 for 90 tabs

Nov 5, 2013 - Five additional companies will start making it, at which time there will be 9 manufacturers of 1mg finasteride — 8 making generic, 1 making brand name. The price at that time will be around $20 for 90 tabs. Most of the generic makers already make generic 5mg finasteride so they only need to make minor adjustments to produce 1mg.

This is good news for us all.

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Avatar for user 'Alex_Grebenshchikov'

Alex_Grebenshchikov | June 20, 2013 at 4:09 p.m. ― 1 year, 1 month ago

Jorbie, no, certainly not. I just meant that insecurity about hair loss may cause some men to feel sexually insecure, and thus depressed. But then, in an effort to overcome those feelings of insecurity, they will take the drug which causes depression, among many other horrific problems. It is terrible though, I mean penile numbness??? I feel bad for the victims...

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