For women suffering from endometriosis, there often comes a point when they are willing to do just about anything to alleviate their pain. It is at that point, and sometimes sooner, when many doctors will prescribe a drug called Leuprolide Acetate, or Lupron for short. This is a GnRH drug which puts women into a temporary state of menopause, slowing the growth of endometriosis in most cases as the body’s estrogen and progestin stores are completely shut down.
The side effects can be difficult to endure, and many doctors will be upfront about what you can come to expect in the short term. Unfortunately, there is a more limited understanding of the long term effects – effects which thousands of women are now claiming continue to plague them every single day after only short stints on Lupron for the treatment of endometriosis.
How Safe is Lupron for Treating Endometriosis & Infertility?
Originally designed as a chemotherapy drug for the treatment of prostate cancer, Lupron was approved by the FDA in 1990 for the treatment of endometriosis, and in 1995 for the treatment of uterine fibroids. It has never been formally approved for use in fertility treatments; however doctors have been designing In Vitro Fertilization protocols which start with the administration of Lupron for many years now.
When it comes to the treatment of endometriosis, Lupron typically comes in two different dosing forms for inducing temporary menopause. Patients will either receive a monthly 3.75mg shot or an every 3-month 11.25mg shot throughout the duration of their treatment. Many doctors will include an add-back therapy for women currently receiving Lupron treatments. This includes a daily pill that women can take to add a small amount of progestin back into their systems, with the purpose of diminishing some of the harder to endure short term effects of the drug.
Short Term Side Effects – Long Term Health Implications?
The openly acknowledged short term side effects of Lupron for the treatment of endometriosis are very similar to what a woman may experience while going through menopause. They include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, headaches, changes in mood, a decreased interest in sex, depression, and the occurrence of forgetfulness. Most patients who take Lupron will experience at least some of these side effects, to varying levels of severity. It is the long term effects which can be truly frightening, however. Thinning of the bones is a recognized risk with Lupron treatments, and as such, it is not recommended that any patient be on the drug for longer than 6 months. Women have also reported developing severe long term health issues, such as joint pain, fibromyalgia, and horrible memory loss as a result of Lupron. Previously active and fit women have been reduced to wheelchairs in some cases, and instances of death have even occurred.
While these potential long term effects are reported as being very rare by the drugs manufacturers, Takeda-Abbott Pharmaceuticals, a survey out of the Endometriosis Research Center (a patient advocacy group) had over half the respondents reporting long term effects lasting longer than 6 months after discontinuing the use of Lupron. Nearly a quarter of those same respondents reported side effects lasting longer than 5 years. A 1999 report from the FDA had adverse drug reactions for 4,228 women – 25 of whom died.
Still, no real movement has occurred in terms of further evaluating the safety of Lupron, although advocacy groups are starting a large push in bringing the issue to the attention of congress. Meanwhile, women continue to receive a drug that is harming many of them – a drug that The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) actually categorize as being a “hazardous drug”, requiring medical workers to wear protective gowns and gloves when handling it. In 2010, the FDA did release an ongoing safety review of Lupron and other GnRH agonists like it, recommending that “healthcare professionals should be aware of these potential safety issues and carefully weigh the benefits and risks of GnRH agonists when determining treatment”. Yet the drug continues to be regularly prescribed to women who simply have blind faith in their doctors and medical practitioners.
In many cases, those doctors and medical practitioners don’t even seem to be aware of how hazardous Lupron could really be. They are quick to site the short term effects, without fully recognizing the potential long term health consequences. Often it is gynecologists prescribing Lupron to their patients; doctors who are treating a variety of conditions on any given day, and are not necessarily experts on endometriosis or the best treatments available. The top specialists in the field have all begun shying away from the use of Lupron, veering more towards improved surgical techniques and other treatment options today. The problem they see with Lupron is that it is only a temporary fix – a Bandaid on a pulsing wound at best. It may buy patients up to 6 months of relief while they are on the drug, but once Lupron is discontinued – those symptoms return. The long term risks aren’t worth the short term benefits in the eyes of many endometriosis experts.
Is Lupron Right for You?
Every patient has to make their own determinations regarding the treatment plans they feel comfortable with, and in at least some cases – Lupron users will experience no long term side effects as a result of the drug. However, there do seem to be other options that don’t require medically inducing menopause worth considering, including the use of the natural supplement Pycnogenol which produced a greater reduction of symptoms compared to Lupron in a 2007 study, with virtually none of the same side effects.
Too many women have suffered at the hands of Lupron, without any real understanding of who will experience those long term health effects. Arm yourself with information and make an informed decision before agreeing to this treatment path. In many cases, there are far better options to consider first.
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