A new study reveals that, in older men taking testosterone, there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in the next few years following initiation of treatment.
The study looked at men taking testosterone who were, on average, in their early 60s. Most had been diagnosed with blocked cardiac arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health issues, according to Reuters Health. Researchers say that the findings do not clarify what this means for younger, healthier men taking testosterone.
“It does kind of raise the question of, maybe when patients and their physicians are thinking about starting testosterone therapy, potential risks such as the ones we looked at should be in that discussion,” Dr. P. Michael Ho told Reuters Health. Dr. Ho worked on the study at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in Denver, Colorado.
Testosterone is typically prescribed for men diagnosed with hypogonadism, a condition in which men are unable to produce sufficient testosterone, according to Reuters Health. Taking testosterone can increase strength and sexual functioning; however, increased marketing of the hormone has expanded the patient base to include tired or depressed men who do not have clinically low testosterone. In fact, a study just found that the percentage of middle aged men in the United States receiving testosterone has increased more than three-fold in the past 10 years. Not all, noted Reuters Health, had undergone blood testing to confirm the necessity of treatment.
Ho and colleagues pointed out that long-term testosterone treatment risks over the long term are, for the most part not known; however, some research suggests that long-term testosterone treatment may worsen sleep apnea or prostate cancer, according to Reuters Health.
The researchers looked at data from some 8,700 men seen at Veterans Affairs hospitals and who were diagnosed with low testosterone; they all underwent testing for arterial plaque buildup between 2005 and 2011. Following the test to assess initial heart health, one in seven men began using testosterone gels, patches, or injections, according to Reuters Health.
After three years, 20 percent of those men who did not begin testosterone suffered a heart attack, stroke, or died; however, in the group of men taking testosterone, nearly 26 percent either died or suffered a heart attack or stroke a 29 percent increased risk, Reuters Health reported. Differences were not due to blood pressure, cholesterol, or heart drug use variations in the two groups.
In the testosterone group, the men, at first, suffered from fewer health problems, according to the researchers, who wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Yet, they had more cardiovascular problems, which “says, maybe there really is something that’s happening with that group,” Dr. Anne R. Cappola told Reuters Health. Cappola, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, wrote an editorial published along with the study.
“For the men who are healthier, my question would be, why are you taking this? And is there any risk that’s acceptable for the benefits they are getting?” Cappola said. Among healthy men, “We just don’t know what the benefits are,” she added. “I think (taking testosterone) is an individual decision, but I think it’s worth weighing the potential benefits of testosterone therapy versus any potential risks before starting it,” Ho told Reuters Health. “If a man is taking testosterone and he doesn’t feel any better, he should stop it,” said Cappola
We have written that, while drug makers continue to heavily tout so-called “low T” cures, criticism continues to mount over the way in which medications for reduced testosterone levels in men are being marketed and some experts note that low testosterone could simply be a normal sign of normal aging. A commentary recently published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine describes a popular “low T” campaign as being a model for the way in which to sell a disease and, more especially, its cure, to what could be a massive market, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Previously, Consumer Reports’ medical experts said that testosterone’s benefits are exaggerated while risks are minimized and the American Urological Association, as part of its “Choosing Wisely” campaign, added testosterone therapy to its list of overused and potentially dangerous medical treatments.