Do Alzheimer's drugs cause hair loss?
Today, I had a great conversation about Alzheimer's medications with a fellow passenger in the airport so I thought I'd share a few interesting points about these drugs.
In the year 2014, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, there are five drugs approved by the FDA to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's. Donepezil, galantamine, tacrine and galantamine are called "cholinesterase inhibitors" and the fifth drug memantine is an NMDA receptor antagonist. According to Litt's Drug Eruption Reference Manual - a key reference for drug side effects - these drugs cause hair loss in approximately 1 % or less of users. So they are not common causes of hair loss, but they are on the list. Hair loss typically starts 3-6 months after starting and the individual experiences an increase in noticeable hair shedding.
The five FDA approved Alzheimer's drugs
1. Donepezil (marketed under brand name Aricept, approved to treat all stages of Alzheimer's disease) - causes hair loss is less than 1 % of users.
2. Rivastigmine (marketed under brand name Exelon, approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer's) - causes hair loss in 1 % of users
3. Galantamine (marketed under the brand name Razadyne, approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease) - incidence of hair loss not clear
4. Tacrine (marketed under Cognex was the first cholinsterase inhibitor but rarely presribed today) - causes hair loss in less than 1 % of users
5. Memantine (marketed under Namenda, approved to treat mild Alzheimer's disease) - cuaes hair loss in less than 1 % of users.
Overall, hair loss is an uncommon side of these new Alzheimer's drugs, but can occur. Hair loss typically starts 3-6 months after starting the drug. Stopping the drug can reverse the hair loss, but sometimes this is not practical if it is thought that the drug is helping with memory and cognition.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Vancouver office at 604.283.9299