Side Effects of Propecia, Proscar Linked to Risk of Persistent Erectile Dysfunction: Study

New research out of Northwestern University highlights the risk of persistent erectile dysfunction from side effects of Propecia, Proscar and Avodart, renewing concerns about the long-term risks men may suffer after using the medication for hair loss or treatment of prostate enlargement.. 

In a study published this week in the medical journal PeerJ, researchers indicate that men face a higher risk of developing long-term erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems the longer they use Propecia, Proscar or Avodart, particularly among younger men.

While the drug labels for Propecia and Avodart do contain information about the potential risk of erectile dysfunction, researchers note that the drug makers claim that long-term exposure does not increase those risks, which their findings contradict.

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The study looked at nearly 12,000 men who took Propecia or Proscar, both of which use the active ingredient finasteride, or Avodart or Jalyn, both of which use the active ingredient dutasteride. They found that younger men who used the drugs longer faced a higher risk of persistent erectile dysfunction (PED) than those who used the drugs for shorter durations. These side effects sometimes lasted for months or even years after they stopped taking the drugs.

Of those tested, 167, or 1.4% developed PED which continued for a median of 1,348 days after they stopped taking the drugs. Men under the age of 42 who took the drugs for more than 205 days were five times more likely to suffer long-term erectile dysfunction.

“Our study shows men who take finasteride or dutasteride can get persistent erectile dysfunction, in which they will not be able to have normal erections for months or years after stopping finasteride or dutasteride,” lead study author Dr. Steven Belknap, a research assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release.

Propecia (finasteride) is a prescription medication marketed by Merck to help men restore natural hair loss that occurs with male pattern baldness. The drug was originally developed as an enlarged prostate treatment and marketed as Proscar in 1992. It was later approved to treat male pattern baldness, and was marketed under the name Propecia.

While most men take the medication to help improve their appearance and overall quality of life, the drug maker has faced a number of Propecia lawsuits filed in recent years by men who allege that they have been left with permanent sexual complications, such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, genital shrinkage and problems with cognition. Plaintiffs indicate that they never would have agreed to take Propecia if they had been warned about the side effects.

Since April 2012, the federal Propecia litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), where about 1,000 complaints are currently pending. Similar centralized proceedings have been established in New Jersey state court, where nearly 400 additional cases are pending, as that is where the drug maker’s U.S. headquarters are based.

According to allegations raised in the complaints, Merck has failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the link between Propecia and sexual dysfunction, which may continue long after the medication is no longer used.

Prior warning information provided by the drug maker suggested that sexual dysfunction associated with the medication was rare, and that the problems resolve after use of the medication is discontinued.

Even after many men reported experiencing permanent sexual issues after Propecia use, Merck continued to provide information suggesting that the problems were temporary until the Propecia warning label was updated in April 2012.

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