What are the side effects of Propecia?

The most obvious potential side effect of Propecia is sexual. After a 2008 investigation of finasteride by the agency known as the Swedish Medical Products, the conclusion was that the drug could cause permanent sexual dysfunction in some men, even long after they stop taking the finasteride.

A similar result was the conclusion of an investigation by the United Kingdom's Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency into the sexual side effects of finasteride.

In one study done by the medical journal, Urology, 3,040 men who took Propecia's brother drug, Proscar, for reducing an enlarged prostate were followed. In the first year of the study, 15 percent of the men using Proscar had sexual side effects, which included a reduction in libido and desire for sex, a lessening in the volume produced during ejaculation, as well as erectile dysfunction.

Four percent of the men in this study felt sexual dysfunction strong enough to drop completely out of the study. After a further six months without the drug, half of the dropouts had yet to return to full sexual function.

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In other cases, besides sexual dysfunction, men have reported experiencing extreme fatigue, hot flashes, and even changes in the structure of the scrotum and penis, including a shrinking in size of the sexual organs. Researchers and physicians have named this side effect of taking Propecia and Proscar, post finasteride syndrome (PFS).

In a study done in 2011, researchers concluded that finasteride effects aren't limited to the prostate or the hairline alone, but that the drug actually can disrupt levels of DHT found in tissues throughout the body. The study discovered that finasteride can not only get in the way of signals to the nerves in the penis, but it can also cause a change in the ratio of hormone levels.

In other words, the drug finasteride may increase female hormones while decreasing the availability of male hormones, such as testosterone and DHT. This 2011 study also found that Propecia can enter the brain and possibly disrupt chemicals such as neurosteroids, which control a human's ability to sleep, reduce anxiety, increase memory ability and even regrow cells in the brain.

Another study from Germany indicated that finasteride can get in the way of the brain's ability to create new neurons in the hippocampus portion of the human brain, a situation commonly found in people who suffer from chronic depression.

Although there has been no direct correlation between taking Propecia and an increased incidence of depression among patients, there is enough concern to warrant telling your doctor if you have had depression in the past, before accepting a prescription for Propecia. Incidents of depression in relation to Propecia use rise noticeably in the group of men who experience sexual dysfunction after stopping their use of this drug.

Another potential side effect is male breast cancer. Indicators of breast cancer may include breast pain, nipple discharge, lumps which weren't previously there or other changes in breast structure. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Before accepting a prescription for Propecia, tell your physician if you have ever had an allergic reaction in the past to this drug, or to another medication called dutasteride, which is marketed under the brand name Avodart. If you experience any signs of allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, or swelling in your tongue, throat, lips or face, seek medical attention immediately.

Also, you may have other less threatening side effects, including an inability to urinate, dizziness or feelings of weakness, headaches, swelling in your feet or hands, a runny nose, skin rash, feelings of faintness, testicular pain, or tenderness or swelling of your breasts. When rising from a sitting or prone position, move carefully, because Propecia may cause dizziness. Also, inform your physician before taking Propecia, if you suffer from decreased liver function.

Propecia can also cause a decrease of prostate specific antigen (PSA), which is produced by the prostate to liquefy semen and allows the sperm to freely swim. PSA is found in low doses in healthy men. However, increased levels of PSA may indicate prostate problems, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, inflammation of the prostate gland or prostate cancer. Because Propecia can limit PSA by as much as 50 percent, older males should use caution when taking this drug, since Propecia can mask higher levels of PSA, creating a faulty reading on PSA tests used when searching for prostate cancer.

Males of age 55 or older may contract acute prostate cancer while taking Propecia, because the early warning signs of the disease aren't picked up by tests. However, other than the potential for masking the early signs of prostate cancer, in clinical studies, there is no direct connection between Propecia and an increase in the potential to contract prostate cancer.

Women, especially women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should never come in contact with Propecia or Proscar, especially if the tablet has been crushed or broken. Propecia can be absorbed through the skin. If a woman comes in contact with Propecia or Proscar, she should wash her skin with soap and water immediately to dilute the drug. Significant birth defects caused by exposure of pregnant women to finasteride have been documented, especially abnormalities in the genitalia of male fetuses.

This occurs because Propecia is a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor, which means that it prevents testosterone from becoming DHT, a chemical crucial in the development of male sexual organs in fetuses. Also, nursing mothers should not take Propecia, because it is not known whether or not the drug passes through the mother's milk and to the baby. Propecia passes into the semen of a man taking the drug, but the pharmaceutical company Merck says this is not a cause for concern for pregnant women.

The use of Propecia is banned by several sporting agencies, because the drug can be used to hide steroid use by athletes. Men who take Propecia are also prevented from donating blood, unless at least a month has passed since taking the last dose of the drug.