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Spironolactone: an ‘inexpensive, effective’ option for acne in women



– In the clinical experience of Julie C. Harper, MD, an increasing number of women with acne are turning to off-label, long-term treatment with spironolactone.

“Spironolactone is fairly accessible, inexpensive, and effective for our patients,” Dr. Harper, a dermatologist who practices in Birmingham, Ala., said at the Hawaii Dermatology Seminar provided by MedscapeLIVE!

An aldosterone receptor antagonist commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure, spironolactone also has antiandrogenic properties with a proven track record for treating acne and hirsutism. It reduces androgen production, inhibits 5-alpha reductase, and increases sex hormone binding globulin. The dosing range for treating acne is 25 mg to 200 mg per day, but Dr. Harper prefers a maximum dose of 100 mg per day.

According to a systematic review of its use for acne in adult women, the most common side effect is menstrual irregularity, while other common side effects include breast tenderness/swelling, fatigue, and headaches.

“The higher the dose, the higher the rate of side effects,” she said. Concomitant use of an oral contraceptive lessens menstrual irregularities and prevents pregnancies, to avoid exposure during pregnancy and the hypothetical risk of feminization of the male fetus with exposure late in the first trimester. “Early in my career, I used to say if you’re going to be on spironolactone you’re also going to be on an oral contraceptive. But the longer I’ve practiced, I’ve learned that women who have a contraindication to birth control pills or who don’t want to take it can still benefit from an oral antiandrogen by being on spironolactone.”

A large retrospective analysis of 14-year data concluded that routine potassium monitoring is unnecessary for healthy women taking spironolactone for acne. “If you’re between the ages of 18 and 45, healthy, and not taking other medications where I’m worried about potassium levels, I’m not checking those levels at all,” Dr. Harper said.

Spironolactone labeling includes a boxed warning regarding the potential for tumorigenicity based on rat studies, but the dosages used in those studies were 25-250 times higher than the exposure dose in humans, Dr. Harper said.

Results from a systematic review and meta-analysis of seven studies in the medical literature found no evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer in women with exposure to spironolactone. “However, the certainty of the evidence was low and future studies are needed, including among diverse populations such as younger individuals and those with acne or hirsutism,” the study authors wrote.

In a separate study, researchers drew from patients in the Humana Insurance database from 2005 to 2017 to address whether spironolactone is associated with an increased risk of recurrence of breast cancer. Recurrent breast cancer was examined in 29,146 women with continuous health insurance for 2 years after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Of these, 746 were prescribed spironolactone, and the remainder were not. The researchers found that 123 women (16.5%) who were prescribed spironolactone had a breast cancer recurrence, compared with 3,649 women (12.8%) with a breast cancer recurrence who had not been prescribed spironolactone (P = .004). Adjusted Cox regression analysis following propensity matching showed no association between spironolactone and increased breast cancer recurrence (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.966; P = .953).

According to Dr. Harper, spironolactone may take about 3 months to kick in. “Likely this is a long-term treatment, and most of the time we’re going to be using it in combination with other acne treatments such as topical retinoids or topical benzoyl peroxide, oral antibiotics, or even isotretinoin.”

A study of long-term spironolactone use in 403 women found that the most common dose prescribed was 100 mg/day, and 68% of the women were concurrently prescribed a topical retinoid, 2.2% an oral antibiotic, and 40.7% an oral contraceptive.

The study population included 32 patients with a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome, 1 with a history of breast cancer, and 5 were hypercoagulable. Patients took the drug for a mean of 471 days. “As opposed to our antibiotics, where the course for patients is generally 3-4 months, when you start someone on spironolactone, they may end up staying on it,” Dr. Harper said.

Dr. Harper disclosed that she serves as an advisor or consultant for Almirall, Cassiopeia, Cutera, EPI, Galderma, L’Oreal, Ortho Dermatologics, Sol Gel, and Vyne. She also serves as a speaker or member of a speaker’s bureau for Almirall, Cassiopeia, Cutera, EPI, Galderma, Journey Almirall, L’Oreal, Ortho Dermatologics, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, and Vyne.

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