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Risperdal and Gynecomastia

teenage boy back turnedRisperdal is an antipsychotic medication the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in 1993 for treating schizophrenia. However, countless physicians have also prescribed it to those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders as well as bipolar disorder. Patients have also been given Risperdal to treat sleep disorders, depression, anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

A surprising number of patients who have taken Risperdal for one or more of the above conditions have ultimately developed a condition known as gynecomastia, in which abnormal breast development occurs in males. Such individuals end up with breasts similar to those of a female, as fat accumulates in the chest area and new, unnecessary glandular tissue also appears.

The scale of breast growth in gynecomastia patients varies from case to case, and has the potential to impact one or both breasts, sometimes quite unevenly. The most severe cases of gynecomastia are characterized by the production of breast milk by males.

Why Risperdal causes gynecomastia

The connection between Risperdal and unwanted breast growth in males is relatively easy to understand. Categorized as a protein-raising antipsychotic, the drug’s dopamine-obstructing mechanism has the ability to boost prolactin levels in the body. Prolactin is a naturally-occurring hormone that prompts breast growth and milk production in females. Unusually high levels of the hormone in males can produce similar outcomes.

Research has suggested that an extremely high proportion of individuals taking Risperdal will experience elevations in prolactin levels at one point or another during their course of treatment, and many will suffer even after use of the medication has ceased.

Negative impact of Risperdal on young males

Though many observers have publicly lamented failures on the part of Johnson & Johnson and its Jannssen subsidiary to properly warn physicians and the public about the dangers of gynecomastia presented by Risperdal, outrage has also been centered on the drug maker’s aggressive marketing strategies aimed at getting more and more children taking the medication. In its efforts to persuade physicians and parents alike of the value of Risperdal in treating uncontrollable behavior in children, the drug giant allegedly:

  • Supplied doctors with undue volumes of free drug samples
  • Instituted sizable incentives for sales staff willing to pitch off-label uses of the drug to doctors
  • Paid doctors to be part of a sham consulting program intended to boost prescriptions for off-label uses

Former FDA commissioner David Kessler recently testified in a Risperdal lawsuit that he believed Johnson & Johnson was indeed aware of the drug’s risks, but actively concealed data underscoring the potential for gynecomastia in male patients being given the medication.

Exponential growth in the number of youngsters taking antipsychotics has occurred in recent years, despite the fact that many believe such serious interventions are unnecessary in the majority of cases of oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD and even autism.

Though the drugs can be helpful for certain types of patients, common, severe side effects have included:

  • Dramatic weight gain
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Menstrual disruptions
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Drowsiness
  • Tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movement disorder)
  • Diabetes
  • Gynecomastia

Though all of the above potential effects of Risperdal are troubling, it is gynecomasia in young males that has gotten a great deal of attention for the emotional distress and social harm it can cause those impacted. Young male patients who have developed gynecomastia after taking Risperdal or a similar antipsychotic drug have been found to exhibit reduced self-esteem, poorer mental health and more troubling eating behaviors when compared with those who did not develop the condition.

Boys suffering from all degrees of breast growth, whether minimal or severe, have been observed to suffer very real psychological damage from the experience.

Furthermore, males whose Risperdal-related breast growth necessitates surgical intervention must undergo invasive, embarrassing and costly medical treatment that may produce unsightly scars, dangerous infections, nerve damage, blood clots and potentially permanent disfigurement.

Gynecomastia treatments

Fortunately, the physical manifestations of gynecomastia often resolve on their own simply by the discontinuation of the drug by affected patients. Many opt to try an alternative type of antipsychotic drug that is not known for impacting prolactin levels so dramatically. For patients whose breast enlargement does not diminish over the course of a year or so, surgery may be required in order to achieve a more normal male appearance.

Sufferers in the past have undergone traditional breast reduction procedures, mastectomies and liposuction, depending on the severity of their condition. No matter the route selected, the solution is almost always likely to be costly, inconvenient, disruptive and possibly quite painful.

Risperdal litigation continues

A large amount of Risperdal litigation has commenced in recent years, brought about by gynecomastia sufferers nationwide. Over 1,300 cases have been filed in the Risperdal mass tort litigation in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in Pennsyvania, in which two so-called bellwether trials have already taken place. Such trials are meant to offer the parties useful insights as to how juries are likely to respond to their arguments in numerous similar matters, potentially providing a basis for large-scale resolution of claims.

Though Johnson & Johnson has already entered into multiple confidential settlements with individual claimants, a global settlement of Risperdal claims has not been reached. The third bellwether trial in the Pennsylvania mass tort program begins in June 2015. In the meantime, those who have suffered the side effects of Risperdal are continuing to explore their legal options for pursuing compensation.

  1. MedlinePlus, Risperidone,

  2. New York Times, J.&J. to Pay $2.2 Billion in Risperdal Settlement,

  3. Scientific American, Widely Used Autism Drug Carries Heavy Risks for Children,

  4. The New York Times, Child's Ordeal Shows Risks of Psychosis Drugs for Young,

  5. The Wall Street Journal, Johnson & Johnson Loses Trial Over Risperdal And Male Breasts,