New Concerns About Testosterone Replacement Therapy for "Low T"
Treating symptoms of “low T” with testosterone may put men at risk for heart attack, stroke and worse
Remember when women were told that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause might head off certain age-related conditions — until researchers found that HRT actually might increase the risk of disease? Now it's your turn, guys.
Related: Is it Menopause or Low Thyroid?
If you’re among the millions of middle-aged men who’ve turned to testosterone replacement therapy in hopes of turning back the clock, your health could be at risk. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there’s growing evidence that prescription testosterone may increase the likelihood of heart attack, stroke or even death. There’s also a worry that these drugs may fuel the growth of prostate cancer in men who already have the condition.
While research is ongoing, the findings so far are convincing enough that the FDA recently issued a statement cautioning against testosterone replacement therapy for treating symptoms related to low testosterone, also know as low T, in middle-aged men.
Confused? Worried? Here are answers to your questions.
Which drugs are these? The FDA is talking about prescription patches, gels, injections and implants approved by the FDA to treat men with conditions that can affect testosterone levels, such as certain genetic diseases, or side-effects of chemotherapy or infection.
Why is testosterone therapy prescribed for men with low T who are otherwise healthy? Testosterone levels naturally decline with age. Roughly 39 percent of men over 45 have low T according to the Urology Care Foundation. Many of them suffer an array of unwelcome symptoms, including low energy levels, decreased sex drive, erection problems, depression, irritability and loss of muscle mass. Testosterone replacement therapy is meant to relieve many of these symptoms.
What does the FDA caution say? The FDA’s safety announcement about testosterone replacement therapy specifies that the drugs are approved only for men whose low testosterone levels are caused by specific medical conditions. It also requires manufacturers of testosterone replacement products to add information to labels about the increased risk of heart attack, stroke or death associated with them.
What if a man would still like to try testosterone replacement therapy? If you and your doctor feel it’s right for you, you’ll need a thorough medical exam and a careful assessment of your testosterone levels. Hormone levels can vary throughout the day, so testosterone should be measured in early morning, when it’s at its peak. A low result should be confirmed with a second test. Once you’re taking testosterone, check with your doctor regularly and immediately report any unusual symptoms, particularly those such as chest pain or shortness of breath that may be related to heart problems.
Are there any alternatives to testosterone replacement? According to experts at Harvard University, there are a number of lifestyle changes that may help alleviate symptoms of low T. A diet rich in protein and fiber and low in sugar can battle sluggishness. Doctor-approved exercise can boost muscle mass and mood. If your sex life is suffering, see your doctor to make sure low T is the problem. He may feel you can be helped with an erectile dysfunction medication.
Related: Safer Sex at 50, 60, 70 and Beyond