Health officials have launched a safety review of a commonly used hair loss drug after the side effects associated with this medication have reportedly increased by 30%.

Frequently taking the drug finasteride can trigger the development of some severe side effects, such as a low libido, erectile disfunction, depression and insomnia, new data has shown.

Gynaecomastia, slurred speech and penis shrinkage are also side effects of the popular hair loss drug, users have said.

Health reports have revealed that finasteride has also caused at least 70 people to feel suicidal as a result of taking the drug.

Finasteride is a medication that treats hair loss in men; however, the drug is not prescribed in the UK to stop men losing their hair. It is traditionally prescribed on the NHS to treat men with an enlarged prostate.

Manufacturers of finasteride, Merck & Co, have rejected the reports that the drug causes severe side effects.

However, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has launched an investigation into the safety of finasteride after increased fears of the negative side effects associated with the drug.

According to experts, virtual pharmacies are to blame for the increase in severe side effects associated with finasteride.

Chairman of the Post-Finasteride Syndrome Research Association, Simon Breidert said: “Online pharmacies are able to freely market this drug as a quick and easy fix to hair loss.

“Men ashamed of losing their hair have been preyed on. We need stronger regulations that mean only doctors can prescribe finasteride, not websites.”

Post-finasteride syndrome is a condition where negative side effects of the drug occur for months and years after taking the medication.

Ryan Clark, 56, used to take finasteride. He said: “I’ve been suffering with post-finasteride syndrome since the late 1990s, trying to get the MHRA to take action since 2017.

“People need to be properly informed about risks attached to finasteride before taking it. These side effects have been devastating and made me progressively worse over the years.”

Health company Hims is based in America but also sells finasteride in the UK. A representative from the male health firm said: “There isn’t much high-quality scientific evidence to support its existence.”

Serious side effects of the hair loss drug only impacts around one in 1,000 people, according to the NHS.

Merck & Co noted: “While consumers and healthcare professionals are encouraged to report adverse events, the reaction may have been related to the underlying disease being treated, or caused by some other drug being take concurrently, or occurred for other reasons.”

Consultant dermatologist Dr David Fenton said: “The drug lowers your dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels, but this is a hormone the body needs.

“So, if someone has low levels to begin with and they start taking finasteride, it’s possible you might suppress their DHT intake completely, which might explain many of the rare but horrible side effects.”

He added: “It’s not possible for online pharmacies to monitor patients, so it’s concerning how widespread the practice of companies posting these pills out to patients has become.”

Tom Brown, 28, developed post-finasteride syndrome after first taking the drug in 2012 to stop hair loss around his temples.

After ordering finasteride from oversees, Tom took the drug daily until 2019. He said: “I felt so depressed. Then I got a whole bunch of other extreme symptoms including penis shrinkage, difficulty peeing, insomnia and slurring my words.

“This continued for years, and life became a day-by-day struggle. My erectile dysfunction was so bad not even Viagra made any difference.”

He added: “I started taking this drug because everything I read said there were no risks. It ended up turning my life upside down.”

A representative from the MHRA said: “’We are undertaking a review of the available evidence on benefits and risks of finasteride.

“This is part of our ongoing responsibility to monitor whether the benefits of all available medicines in the UK outweigh their risks.”

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