Acne vulgaris, commonly called acne, affects 40 million to 50 million people in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Acne can range from mild to severe and present as a few pimples or cysts deep under the skin. This common skin condition can also lead to permanent scarring and can negatively affect self-image. Treatment of acne consists of over-the-counter or prescription topical creams to antibiotics, steroids and systemic treatment known as Accutane.
Accutane, also known as isotretinoin by its generic name, is a drug taken for moderate to severe, scarring and nodular acne that has not improved with any other treatments. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), Accutane treats severe acne so effectively that about half the people on the drug do not experience recurring acne and do not require any other treatment again.
Accutane naturally occurs as a form of vitamin A, and the drug equals to a potent large dose of the vitamin. According to Drugs.com, an online resource for drug information, the drug acts to reduce the production of oil by the sebaceous glands in the skin and encourages the skin to regenerate and renew itself faster. Acne.org, an online community organization, adds that Accutane has anti-inflammatory effects and reduces the amount of acne bacteria present on the skin.
According to Acne.org, symptoms of acne may worsen during the first month of Accutane therapy. With continued usage, over 95 percent of people achieve positive results with either complete or partial clearance of severe acne. The AOCD also states the longer the medication is taken, the greater the chance for complete clearance without recurrence of acne. The therapeutic dose of Accutane needs to be individually adjusted by your dermatologist based on your weight. The approximate amount of treatment time is four to six months.
The most devastating side effect of Accutane is severe, life-threatening birth defects if a female patient takes it while she is pregnant. According to the AAD, both men and women who are of child-bearing age can only acquire the drug through a special program called iPLEDGE. This resembles a contractual agreement in writing that the individual will use two forms of birth control and agree to having regular pregnancy testing before, during and after Accutane usage, according to Drugs.com. Additionally, the drug must not be shared with anyone else, and blood donation is not allowed during or in the month following the end of treatment. Vitamin A supplements should not be used in conjunction with Accutane.
Side effects of Accutane can be attributed to its reduced production of oil and the consequent drying effects on the skin. The occurrence of side effects also depend on dosage, with high doses related to increasing severity. According to the AOCD, chapped lips, itchy dry skin and dry mucous membranes of the nose with mild nosebleeds are the most frequently occurring side effects. Less frequently, Accutane can cause irritation of the eyes, joint and muscle pains, hair thinning, skin rash and increased sensitivity to the sun. Drugs.com includes seizures, sudden numbness of the body, depression and suicidal thoughts to the list of serious adverse effects. Contact your health-care provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
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