Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - Sex Drive
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Q: As a Propecia user, I was alarmed when I read headlines last year about a new study indicating very high rates of depression and erectile dysfunction caused by Propecia, with symptoms persisting even after the drug was stopped. However, when I read the articles, this “study” appeared to be survey of 61 men who had taken Propecia and already reported sexual problems who were then asked about symptoms of depression. These rates of depression were compared to a small survey of men who had hair loss but had never taken Propecia.

Anyone with a basic understanding of statistics would know such a survey was deeply flawed. First, it is a textbook example of a bad data sample — to get sound results you have to start with an unbiased and random group of people who took the drug, not a self-selected group of men already suffering symptoms. The study also confuses correlation with causation — because these men are suffering from ED or depression does not necessarily mean it was caused by the drug. Am I missing something here, or did the media just report these “findings” with no scrutiny on what was actually studied? — Jonathan, Brooklyn, NY

A: Jonathan, I think you’re right on the mark. The way the study was conducted raises a lot of concern about the accuracy of the findings. It is really important that additional data is obtained in a controlled way, as this will be most useful for physicians in advising patients. I addressed concern on these reports last year. The issue of persistent sexual dysfunction as a side-effect of finasteride (Post-Finasteride Syndrome) is an on-going issue that we take very seriously. I sit on the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) Task Force on Finasteride Adverse Events, so this is an issue that we watch very closely.

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The central finding of a 2004 study led by Italian researcher Dr. Antonella Tosti, in which he and his team investigated sexual dysfunction in hair loss patients being treated for androgenetic alopecia, was that there was no statistically significant change in sexual function after four to six months of treatment with finasteride 1mg (Propecia).

The researchers used a questionnaire, called the abridged 5-item version of the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5), to measure sexual function in the men in the study. The questionnaire, which is considered an internationally valid diagnostic tool for distinguishing between men with and without erectile dysfunction, asks the patients 15 questions on the topics of: erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, intercourse satisfaction, and overall sexual satisfaction. By administering the questionnaire both before and after treatment with finasteride, the researchers were able to determine if sexual function was impaired by the treatment.

The result of this investigation in the sexual function of 186 patients was that, “the erectile function of all patients remained stable after 4 to 6 months of treatment with finasteride 1 mg.”

Interestingly, the research team found that sexual side effects were actually less common than reported in the clinical trials of the drug. They suggest that this difference was potentially due to the fact that subjects in the clinical trials were made aware of the potential for sexual side effects, and were asked about these side effects upon each visit, which led to higher reporting of side effects than what would otherwise be the case.

Reference:

Tosti A, Pazzaglia M, Soli M, Rossi A, Rebora A, Atzori L, Barbareschi M, Benci M, Voudouris S, Vena GA. Evaluation of Sexual Function With an International Index of Erectile Function in Subjects Taking Finasteride for Androgenetic Alopecia. Arch Dermatol. 2004;140:857-858.

Download the Tosti study of erectile function and finasteride

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Q: I heard that there is a new drug on the market called Avodart for prostate enlargement which might help with hair loss as it blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT better than Finasteride and is more effective than Propecia. Do you recommend taking it and if so what is the dose? — Y.B., Orlando, Florida

A: I am currently not recommending that patients take Dutasteride for hair loss, although it is more effective than Propecia, finasteride 1mg. (Dutasteride 0.5, the dose generally used for hair loss, seems to be slightly more effective than finasteride 5m in reversing miniaturization.)

The reasons that I am hesitant to prescribe it at present are outlined in the Hair Restoration Answers question, “Is Avodart Safe?

In addition to the reasons that I listed in that response, I would also consider that: Dutasteride, unlike finasteride, decreases sperm counts, it can result in persistent decreased sex drive and the incidence is greater than with finasteride. Finally there are a significant number of alpha-type 1 receptors in brain, those affected by dutasteride, but not finasteride.

However, since Dutasteride is approved for older men with prostatic disease, using it for hair loss in this age group (usually in a lower dose) is reasonable.

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