Testosterone therapy helps men with Low T, but comes with the risk of serious side effects like heart attack, stroke and blood clots.
Record numbers of men are turning to testosterone replacement therapy to increase energy levels, muscle mass and sex drive.
Drug companies that manufacture testosterone replacement drugs like AndroGel heavily market their products promising a better quality of life for men, and it isn’t uncommon for several television ads to air during football games and shows that target men.
The reality is that testosterone therapy can cause a number of health complications that might not be worth the benefits. Also, men aren’t the only ones affected by the drugs. Women, children and even pets can be adversely affected.
Some men are even filing lawsuits against the makers of testosterone products, claiming the manufacturers hid the dangers of their products.
Testosterone Therapy and Heart Attacks
One of the most recent studies, published on January 29, 2014, in the PLoS One journal, found that men older than 65 and younger men with undiagnosed heart disease had double the risk of suffering a heart attack after the first 90 days of testosterone therapy.
The study involved about 56,000 patients and was conducted by the National Cancer Institute and UCLA. Researchers compared data from patients before and after they received their first testosterone prescription.
This 2014 study was not the first to raise red flags about the cardiac risks associated with testosterone replacement drugs.
In 2010 and 2013, researchers conducted two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), respectively. These studies involved men who were frail or elderly and found that these men were more likely to suffer from several cardiac “events,” including heart attacks.
In fact, during the NEJM study, one man died and investigators said it was likely a heart attack brought on by testosterone use.
Risk of Stroke, Mini-Stroke and Blood Clots
According to findings in the NEJM and JAMA studies, testosterone gels also raised the risk for stroke – also called a cerebrovascular accident or CVA. Men who took testosterone drugs were 30 percent more likely to suffer from strokes.
Some men who participated in the study had to undergo “emergency artery-clearing” procedures, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Men using testosterone have also suffered from mini-strokes, also called transient ischemic attacks or TIA. Mini-strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is halted for a brief period of time. About a third of people who have a mini-stroke go on to have a full stroke within a year.
One of the reasons why men using testosterone therapy drugs have stokes and mini-strokes may be the fact that testosterone therapy drugs cause blood cells to increase in size. This causes the blood to thicken and increases the risk for blood clots, which can lead to a stroke.
Not only can testosterone therapy drugs adversely affect the heart, but they are also linked to a possible increase in prostate cancer risk. One of the reasons for this is a spike in testosterone levels. One study led by Dr. Terrence Shaneyfelt involving men who received testosterone replacement therapy found that there was a two-fold increase in the risk of prostate cancer among men whose testosterone levels were above normal. The study was conducted by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard.
Another study reviewed the medical records of six urology practices. Men involved underwent testosterone replacement therapy for sexual dysfunction or “rejuvenation.” In this study, a number of men were diagnosed with prostate cancer after they began testosterone therapy, some within two years of beginning therapy.
Many researchers agree that more study is needed on the relationship between testosterone therapy and prostate cancer. Men who undergo testosterone replacement therapy should be monitored by doctors to make sure that prostate cancer does not develop. Men who have a history of prostate problems should not use testosterone products.
Other Testosterone Therapy Side Effects
Heart problems are not the only side effects linked to testosterone therapy. Other health problems linked to testosterone treatment range from sleep apnea to prostate cancer.
Studies show that testosterone therapy may exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition where the flow of air stops or decreases during sleep because of a blocked or narrowed airway. It can cause stroke, atrial fibrillation and cardiac ischemia, a condition where not enough blood is flowing to the heart.
Doctors recommend treating OSA before starting testosterone therapy.
Another side effect of testosterone therapy is polycythemia, a condition characterized by increased levels of red blood cells. When too many red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow, it causes the blood to thicken and increases the risk of blood clots, which can lead to stroke.
Testosterone therapy can upset the balance of hormones in the body. This can cause enlargement of male breasts, skin irritations, acne, oily skin and changes in hair patterns and growth.
The testicles may also shrink, and there is a risk of infertility that is irreversible.
Dangers to Women, Children and Pets
Testosterone therapy for men can be dangerous to women and children if they come in contact with the drug by touching the patient’s skin. This usually occurs when men use testosterone gel and the application site is exposed. Anyone who comes in contact with the application site is at risk of developing side effects.
Women can experience acne or hair growth, and if they are pregnant, the unborn baby may be harmed.
In 2009, the FDA issued a warning about adverse effects in children exposed to testosterone gels through contact with application sites. Symptoms included abnormally large genitalia (penis and clitoris), advanced bone age, early puberty and aggressive behavior. Young boys may even develop enlarged breasts. A doctor should be contacted right away if these symptoms occur.
Pets exposed to testosterone can become violent and aggressive, and develop enlarged genitals.