A new study shows that men taking testosterone therapy are more prone to heart attacks. For men over 65, the risk of heart attacks is doubled and in younger men with heart disease it is tripled. The study, which was published on Wednesday in PLOS One, involved 56,000 men and was led by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Experts say that these risks discovered in the study are substantial. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota who was not involved in the study, told USA Today “That’s equivalent to smoking one or two packs of cigarettes a day, or having sky-high cholesterol,” Authors of the study said that doctors should the discuss the heart risks with their patients.
Testosterone therapy is used to treat a condition called hypogonadism, which leads to abnormally low levels of testosterone. But recently, drug companies have also been pushing testosterone as a way to treat energy loss, mood changes and a low sex drive. It appears that their marketing efforts have had an effect. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 5.3 million prescriptions for testosterone therapy were written in 2011, five times as many as in 2000. However, the JAMA study found that only about half of those men were actually diagnosed with hypogonadism; one-quarter of them had never even had their testosterone levels tested. The remaining patients were diagnosed with problems such as fatigue of sexual dysfunction.
Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, says that the FDA should mandate clinical testing for companies that sell testosterone therapy to assess heart risks. Nissen points out that the effects of hormones are not limited to sexual organs. They can sometimes have surprising and powerful effects on the rest of the body. He notes that hormone replacement therapy in women was once thought to prevent heart disease, but it was later found to cause heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer. He says that needlessly prescribing testosterone therapy for men is “a gigantic experiment, and I’m extremely concerned.”