Testosterone replacement therapy may help relieve symptoms of so-called male menopause but it may also be hazardous to your health, recent studies suggest.
Testosterone treatments have been available for decades to treat a condition known as hyopgonadism, in which the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone due to injury or a defect. Testosterone deficiency, or low testosterone levels, can cause symptoms such as low sex drive due to decreased spontaneous erections, hot flushes, loss of body hair and low sperm count.
Within the past decade, manufacturers of testosterone treatments, lured by the popularity of erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, launched media campaigns targeting middle-aged men. The ads asked men if they suffered from symptoms such as low libido, muscle loss, weight gain, fatigue and general grumpiness. These, the drug companies said, could be signs of low testosterone, a condition they dubbed “Low T.” A condition, coincidentally, that occurs naturally as men age.
Doctors are encouraged to test men’s blood to check for low testosterone levels, however many did not. As a result, the advertising worked. Sales of testosterone drugs skyrocketed.
“The concern is that testosterone therapy is being overused,” says Dr. Donald Perry-Keene, endocrinologist at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. Even when indicated, it is not without risk, he warns. Studies have linked testosterone treatment to an increased risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, strokes, and death.
These studies prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2014 to launch an investigation into cardiovascular risks with testosterone treatments. Six months later, the FDA ordered manufacturers of the drugs to add a warning for an increased risk of blood clots in the veins, known as venous thromboembolism, or VTE. An advisory panel also recommended that further studies be conducted on the cardiovascular risks associated with the drugs.
Manufacturers of testosterone treatments now face hundreds of lawsuits alleging the companies knew the risks associated with the drugs but failed to warn the public. Instead, the companies chose to heavily market the drugs to men in hopes of turning greater profits.