Antipsychotic Drugs Have Caused Breast Growth in Men

More than two years after Johnson & Johnson settled a lawsuit with a 21-year-old man who experienced an adverse side effect from Risperdal, hundreds of other young male plaintiffs are pursuing claims for the same reason: unnatural breast growth.

The condition known as gynecomastia can cause a great deal of emotional and psychological damage in patients who have been prescribed the drug to treat a pre-existing mental illness. The antipsychotic helps with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but now doctors are asking “at what cost?”

New research points to evidence that Risperdal can cause gynecomastia in older men, as well as the younger set. Mahyar Etminan, a drug-safety scientist at the University of British Columbia, told WebMD’s Medscape Medical News men between the ages of 45 and 80 who took the antipsychotic were 69-percent more likely to see breast enlargement.

“This is the first and largest epidemiologic study on this question using data from 1 million men in the United States,” Etminan said.

Because there are so many lawsuits alleging the makers of Risperdal – as well as Invega, which has produced similar side effects – failed to disclose the possibility of the embarrassing condition, the study was undertaken.

Chemical structure of risperidone, the active ingredient in Risperdal.

Chemical structure of risperidone, the active ingredient in Risperdal.

“There has been a lot of interest on the risk of gynecomastia with Risperdal, mainly in adolescent boys but also in older men,” Etminan said. “So we wanted to see if there was actually a risk with Risperdal that is over and beyond the other antipsychotics. We do know that these drugs in general can cause gynecomastia because of the way they change the hormones in the body. But we weren’t really sure whether Risperdal does it more than the others.”

The conclusion: It does. And Etminan’s recommendation is for doctors to consider alternatives, such as olanzapine or quetiapine.

“If everything is the same in terms of efficacy in these antipsychotics, especially for younger men who may have more problems with this psychologically, then I think it may be better to choose something other than risperidone,” he said. “If you want to put it in perspective, there are millions of prescriptions of Risperdal prescribed. But everything else being equal, then why not prescribe something else if there is a risk for gynecomastia?”

Drugwatch.com urges those who have experienced gynecomastia from taking Risperdal or Invega to consult with a product-liability lawyer as soon as possible.

“Unfortunately, what makes Risperdal and Invega work is also what can cause side effects,” the Web site states. “They work by altering the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, but they can also cause a number of complications brought on by the abnormal levels of hormones in the body. These drugs are known as ‘atypical’ antipsychotics because they target serotonin in addition to dopamine, which may be why they are more effective than traditional antipsychotics at reducing symptoms.”