Finasteride for hair loss may increase risk for depression, suicidal thoughts

Men taking a hair loss drug may be at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, a new study has found. Photo by kalhh/Pixabay
Men taking a hair loss drug may be at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, a new study has found. Photo by kalhh/Pixabay

Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Men aged 45 years and younger who take the drug finasteride to combat hair loss were more than three times as likely as those not on the drug to have thoughts of suicide, make plans to commit suicide or attempt suicide, according to an analysis published Wednesday by JAMA Dermatology.

Risk for suicidality -- or thoughts of, plans for and suicide attempts -- was 63% higher among those using other drugs for hair loss, the data showed.


Researchers said the increased risk was not, however, seen in men 45 and older who use the drug to treat an enlarged prostate.

Finasteride is sold under the brand names Proscar and Propecia, among others.

"We found a signal for suicidality and psychological adverse events among people taking finasteride, namely suicidal ideation among younger men taking the medication for hair loss," study co-author Dr. Quoc-Dien Trinh, a urologic surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told UPI.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved finasteride in 1992.

Since then, the drug, which works by decreasing production of dihydro-testosterone, or DHT, has been used to treat men for hair loss and an enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia, known as BPH.


However, in the early 2000s, reports emerged of psychological side effects among those treated with finasteride, suggesting that the drug may be linked to depression, self-harm and suicide, according to Trinh and his colleagues.

The reports led to the term post-finasteride syndrome and the creation of the Post-Finasteride Syndrome Foundation, the researchers said.

Health authorities in Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and Britain have issued warnings for finasteride in recent years, though in the United States the FDA has yet to do so, despite adding depression to the list of adverse events on the drug's label in 2011.

Other side effects listed include erectile dysfunction, libido disorders, ejaculation disorders and orgasm disorders.

For their analysis, Trinh and his colleagues reviewed data on 356 reports of suicidality and 2,926 reports of psychological side effects among finasteride users reported to VigiBase, the World Health Organization's global database of drug safety reports.

Risk for thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts was 63% higher among those taking the drug, and users were more than four times as likely to experience psychological side effects, including depression, the data showed.

Those using the drug to treat hair loss were twice as likely to report suicidality, but older men taking it to treat an enlarged prostate did not experience these issues, the researchers said.


Younger men were 3.5 times as likely to have thoughts of suicide after taking the drug, the data showed.

Still, Trinh cautioned the public against "over-interpreting the findings" of the analysis, given that they based on the experiences of a fraction of those who have used the drug.

However, "I think they should be made aware of this potential side-effect and to speak to their prescribing doctor if they have concerns," he said.

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