Is Propecia for me?

propeciaHair loss can be a traumatic, whether it happens rapidly or over the space of years. For some, it has to do with more than just losing hair, it can be about losing an important part of identity.

There are a number of treatments to help combat hair loss. Once you begin to investigate you will inevitably start to hear about Propecia. This pharmacological treatment has helped plenty of men over the years to have renewed hair growth with minimal side effects, but it is not a miracle cure. Read on to see if Propecia has the potential to meet your expectations.

What is Propecia?

Propecia, also known by its active ingredient finasteride, is a drug that prevents testosterone from turning into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. In susceptible men DHT can reduce the activity of hair follicles, which in turn can result in hair loss. Reduction of DHT by taking regular finasteride is currently one of the only proven method of slowing hair loss, the other being topical minoxidil (Regaine). Propecia/finasteride is prescribed in 1mg tablets and is taken once daily.

Propecia is intended for men with male pattern baldness but it works best for hair loss on the crown of the head. It is not proven to be effective in reversing frontal hairline or hair loss limited to the temples. It is important to note that Propecia is capable of halting the progression of hair loss in many men, but it cannot restore hair in areas of the scalp with total hair loss.

All of the clinical trials for Propecia were conducted on men between the ages of 18 and 41 years. Two thirds of the men who took Propecia saw results within three months of starting treatment, with best results, in terms of increase in thickness and hair count, after two years.

Who should not take it?

Propecia is approved only for men. Women and children should not take Propecia, as it can be harmful to children and possibly lead to birth defects if taken during pregnancy. Propecia can potentially be absorbed through the skin, and tablets should not normally be handled by anyone other than the patient.

Before starting treatment with Propecia, you must disclose any history of liver disease, prostate cancer, bladder or urethral issues, and mention whether you have ever had an allergic reaction to any drug. Your GP or specialist can help determine if there are any risk factors in taking Propecia.

If your hair loss occurred quickly and/or has been accompanied by significant weight loss, it could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Such condition should be treated before determining eligibility for treatment with Propecia.

Patchy or irregular hair growth is not typical in male pattern baldness and is not likely to respond to Propecia. Propecia can alter the results of blood tests carried out to detect cancer and other prostate conditions, so it is important to inform your doctor if you take this medication.

Propecia is contraindicated for professional athletes; although it is not a performance enhancing drug, it has a history of being used to mask steroid use, and is therefore banned by most professional sports organisations.

Side effects of Propecia

Most men experience little or no side effects from taking Propecia. A reduction in libido and erectile dysfunction may occur in some cases with 1% of men reporting it as the reason for stopping with symptoms then resolving. In extremely rare reports symptoms have persisted, although this is not proven to be related to finasteride. Some men have reported episodes of depressive illness in relation to taking Propecia/ finasteride. If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to stop taking Propecia and contact your GP immediately.

From the patient leaflet:

Like all medicines, this medicine can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them.

Stop taking Propecia and talk to your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction: swelling of your lips, face, tongue and throat; difficulty swallowing; lumps under your skin (hives) and breathing difficulties.

You should promptly report to your doctor any changes in your breast tissue such as lumps, pain, enlargement or nipple discharge as these may be signs of a serious condition, such as breast cancer.

Uncommon: may affect up to 1 in 100 people:

  • you may be unable to have an erection (impotence)
  • you may have less desire to have sex
  • you may have problems with ejaculation, for example a decrease in the amount of semen released during sex. This decrease in the amount of semen does not appear to affect normal sexual function.

These side effects above may disappear after a while if you continue taking Propecia. If these symptoms persist, they usually resolve after stopping Propecia.

Frequency unknown:

  • breast swelling or tenderness
  • palpitations (feeling your heartbeat)
  • changes in the way your liver is working, which can be shown by a blood test
  • pain in the testicles
  • persistent difficulty having an erection after discontinuation of treatment
  • persistent decrease in sex drive after discontinuation of treatment
  • persistent problems with ejaculation after discontinuation of treatment
  • male infertility and/or poor quality of semen
  • depressed mood

If any of these side effects gets serious, or if you notice any side effects not listed on this leaflet please tell your doctor or pharmacist. It will help if you make a note of what happened, when it started and how long it lasted.

Will the use of Propecia affect the hair on other parts of your body?
Propecia does not affect hair on other parts of the body.

Many men – given the option – would choose to slow down the rate at which they are losing their hair, and Propecia is a potential solution for certain patients. Speak to your doctor to help determine if it is right for you.