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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 00:47 GMT
UK launch for baldness pill
Baldness is a common condition in the UK
A pill to treat baldness will be made available for the first time in the UK on Monday.

Propecia, manufactured by Merck, Sharp & Dohme, is already available in 40 countries.

However, it will only be made available in the UK on private prescription after the government decided the treatment would not be funded by the NHS.

Baldness does not hurt physically, but it does cause so much suffering across the board

Elizabeth Steel
Propecia is designed to treat male pattern baldness - the most common form of baldness where the hair recedes on either side of the head.

The Department of Health estimates that up to six and a half million men in the UK are affected by male pattern baldness.

Otherwise known as alopecia androgenetica, it is linked to the male sex hormone testosterone.

This is broken down by the body into another compound called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

DHT plays a crucial role in the development of the male foetus.

However, it also damages the hair follicles and causes the hair to thin dramatically in later life, leading to baldness in those men who are genetically susceptible.

The propecia pill works by blocking the conversion of testosterone into DHT.


In clinical trials five out of six men (83%) did not lose any more hair whilst taking the drug - and some men actually reported improved scalp hair growth.

Three to six months treatment are required for effects to be visible. The cost is between 30 and 35 a month.

The side effects of the drug can include a loss of sex drive - but the effect is usually mild, and reversible.

Mrs Marilyn Sherlock, Chairman of the Institute of Trichologists, said: "Surgical treatments are a useful approach if the patient has lost a lot of hair and they have a good donor site.

"For younger people, who are only just starting to lose their hair, surgery is not a viable option.

"Propecia, being a pill, is less cosmetic than topical applications, which may make it more appealing to some people."


Research from the University of Wales in Cardiff found that baldness caused at least as much suffering in men as a serious skin condition such as psoriasis.

A recent survey found that 39% of men interviewed were anxious about hair loss.

Young adults (aged 18-24) fear going bald twice as much as older men and more than putting on weight and going grey.

Elizabeth Steel, founder of the support group Hairline International, welcomed the launch of propecia, and said many men would be pleased to have the chance to use it.

"When I first launched Hairline it was for women who had lost their hair, but I was amazed at the response I got from men.

"Baldness caused them far more suffering than I had ever imagined.

"Baldness does not hurt physically, but it does cause so much suffering across the board: people lose confidence, marriages break down, careers are ruined and it can lead to suicide attempts."

Propecia is the second anti-baldness treatment to be launched in the UK in recent years, following minoxidil, a lotion rubbed on to the head.

See also:

25 Jan 00 | Health
No hair, bad heart
07 Jun 00 | Health
Men to pay for anti-baldness drug
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