Finasteride: 6 things you should know
Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Nov 15, 2018.
1. How it works
- Finasteride works by blocking an enzyme called Type II 5α-reductase which is responsible for converting the hormone testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
- This results in increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of dihydrotestosterone.
- An overabundance of dihydrotestosterone has been implicated in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostate cancer.
- The scalp of men with androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) has also been found to contain increased amounts of DHT and miniaturized hair follicles compared with men who have a lot of hair. Finasteride reduces scalp concentrations of DHT and appears to interrupt a key factor in the development of androgenetic alopecia in those men who are genetically predisposed.
- Finasteride belongs to the class of medicines known as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors.
- Finasteride 5mg tablets (brand name Proscar) are indicated for the treatment of symptomatic (BPH) in men with an enlarged prostate. Finasteride reduces lower urinary tract symptoms such as daytime urinary urgency, frequent nighttime voiding, urinary hesitancy, weak stream, straining, and prolonged voiding). Finasteride lowers the risk of needing to have prostate surgery. May be used in combination with doxazosin in men with symptomatic progression of BPH.
- Finasteride 1mg tablets (brand name Propecia) are used for the treatment of male pattern baldness - also called androgenetic alopecia. Finasteride is indicated for hair loss in MEN only.
- Significant increases in hair count at both 6 and 12 months have been reported in men treated with finasteride 1mg tablets (an average increase of 107 hairs when compared to placebo [pretend pill] after 12 months). After two years this hair count was maintained and slightly increased (by an average of 138 hairs over placebo). Most men experienced a slow decline in hair count following the initial improvement; however, hair count was maintained above baseline throughout the 5 years of the studies. Hair loss continued in those men who were assigned a placebo tablet, such that the difference in hair count was 277-hairs at the end of the 5-year study period.
- Finasteride does not affect body levels of cortisol, thyroid hormones, cholesterol or bone mineral density.
- No dosage adjustment is needed in men with kidney disease; however, finasteride must be used with caution in men with liver disease.
- No clinically significant interactions have been reported.
- Does not cause drowsiness.
- Generic finasteride is available.
If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:
- Sexual dysfunction (including decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculation disorders) has occasionally been reported in men taking finasteride. Side effects are generally uncommon and do not result in drug discontinuation.
- Finasteride tablets are not approved for the prevention of prostate cancer. Use of finasteride tablets increases the risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer in men older than 55 years.
- May cause birth defects, most notably in a male fetus, if used during pregnancy (finasteride has not been proven to be effective in women anyway).
- May cause decreases in serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) which should be taken into account in men with cancer whose PSA levels are being monitored. Reductions in PSA levels of about 50% have been reported in older men.
- Finasteride may not be effective for bitemporal recession (often referred to as the "widow's peak").
- Finasteride tablets should not be used in women with hair loss. No improvement in hair count, or patient or investigator assessment was noted in 137 postmenopausal women with androgenetic alopecia treated with finasteride tablets for 12 months. Finasteride should also not be given to children.
Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.
- Finasteride may be administered with or without meals. The usual dose is one tablet daily.
- Daily use of finasteride 1mg for at least three months may be required before a benefit is seen with regards to regrowth of hair.
- Finasteride tablets must be taken on a daily basis to maintain hair regrowth. Most men experience the biggest hair regrowth in the first two years of taking finasteride. Withdrawal of treatment leads to a reversal of hair gain within 12 months. Re-evaluate benefits of finasteride periodically.
- Men should report any changes in their breast tissue such as lumps, pain, tenderness, enlargement or nipple discharge.
- Always read the patient package insert before starting finasteride and each time your prescription is renewed.
- Finasteride tablets are for MEN only and should not be used by women or children.
- Tell your doctor you are taking finasteride if your PSA levels are being monitored.
6. Response and Effectiveness
- A single oral dose of finasteride produces a rapid decrease in serum DHT concentrations, with the maximum effect observed within 8 hours. DHT suppression is maintained for at least 24 hours with continued treatment.
- Daily dosing of finasteride 5mg tablets for up to 4 years reduced serum DHT concentrations by approximately 70%. Circulating levels of testosterone increased by approximately 10 to 20% but remained within the normal physiologic range.
- Effects on hair regrowth may take up to three months to be seen. Effects do not persist once finasteride has been discontinued.
Finasteride [Package Insert]. Revised 07/2018. Burel Pharma https://www.drugs.com/pro/finasteride.html
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use finasteride only for the indication prescribed.
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