The sharp upswing in sales of Androgel,Testim and other hormone-replacement drugs in recent years indicates record numbers of American men are seeking a boost in their testosterone levels. But while men who use these drugs may experience some relief from age-related declines in strength and libido, among other benefits, the drugs may also work behind the scenes to create a number of harmful side effects that may not be so easily or readily noticeable at first.
Some of the most commonly reported side effects of topical testosterone drugs, which are usually applied to the shoulders, upper arms, or abdomen, are moodiness, hypertension, increased red blood cell count, enlarged or painful breasts, swelling of ankles, feet, or other parts of the body; and skin irritation where the drug is applied. Some of the more serious problems include an increased risk of prostate cancer, lower sperm count, sleep apnea, and the development of blood clots.
Normal testosterone levels vary among men, but healthy men should have a hormonal level of between 300 and 1,200 nanograms per deciliter. Younger men tend to have higher levels of testosterone than older men. A man in his 20s, for example, typically measures about 800.
But sometimes men with normal testosterone levels mistakenly attribute body fat, fatigue, weakness, and lack of sexual appetite as a sign of low testosterone (often called “low T” in drug marketing campaigns) and seek testosterone supplements as a panacea for such declines. Some men simply desire testosterone replacement therapies for the energy-boosting, muscle-building, libido-strengthening properties they provide. These men tend to be the most at risk of developing complications.
“Long-term use of testosterone in these kinds of men, in men who have normal testosterone levels, is actually problematic because it can cause shrinkage of their testicles,” among other problems, a Los Angeles-based urologist told KABC. A lot of times, the problems commonly associated with low testosterone can be treated with a healthier diet, exercise, and more sleep, KABC reports.
Sales of Androgel, Testim, and other prescription testosterone replacements have more than doubled in just the last four years, and these sales are expected to more than triple in the next five years.
In the case of testosterone gels and creams that are applied to the skin, an increase in the number of men using the drugs likely will lead to an increase in the risk of secondary exposure to women and children, who can develop a number of side effects associated with excessive testosterone by coming into contact with the user’s skin or his articles of clothing.
In children, heightened testosterone can manifest as aggression, signs of premature puberty, enlargement of the penis or clitoris, and advanced bone age. Women exposed to the drugs may develop acne, excessive or unusual hair growth, and other effects.