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Men's Health

August 2013

Low T? Know the Risks of Testosterone Treatment

Hormones hold a lot of sway in the human body. And not just in women. A drop in the hormone testosterone can spur unsettling symptoms in men. Low T-as it's called-has more men seeking testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), despite the risks.

Photo of a man watering flowers

An essential hormone

Testosterone is present in both men and women. But men have more of it. The hormone regulates men's sex drive. It also controls muscle strength and size, bone growth, and red blood cell production.

As men age, the body naturally produces less testosterone. In some men, the drop can be dramatic enough to cause fatigue, muscle loss, weight gain, sexual problems, and depression. Up to one-quarter of men older than 45 may suffer from low testosterone. The condition is more likely to occur as a man grows older.

Possibly thanks to appealing advertising, more men are being treated for low testosterone, even though they may not need it. In a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed prescriptions for TRT in one of the nation's largest health claim databases. They found that TRT use tripled between 2001 and 2011. Alarmingly, nearly a quarter of men given a prescription for TRT weren't tested for low testosterone.

A cautious choice

TRT may ease the symptoms of low testosterone. But research is limited on its short- and long-term effects. It can interfere with fertility by decreasing sperm production. Some men have also reported acne, breast growth, and swelling in the feet and ankles.

One serious potential pitfall may be TRT's ability to affect a man's heart. A recent review of 27 studies on TRT found a significant association with heart-related problems. Of special concern are older men, who are more likely to already have heart troubles.

Another possible hazard: prostate cancer. Some studies have found an elevated risk for the cancer in men who have taken TRT. Other research has documented no such connection . Until more is known, experts recommend that men at high risk for prostate cancer-such as those with a family history-avoid TRT.

You should also stay away from TRT if you have breast cancer, heart failure, or an enlarged prostate. Complications may also arise in men with sleep apnea-a disorder that causes periodic halts in breathing while sleeping.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information. 

Click here to learn the truth about other supposed anti-aging hormones. 


Precautions Before Taking Testosterone

Testosterone is available in the U.S. as an injection, patch, and skin gel. It's often prescribed, but you can purchase supplements over the counter. Before taking testosterone, follow these precautions:

  • Talk with your doctor if you think you may have low testosterone. A simple blood test can determine your testosterone level. Your doctor can also rule out any other potential causes for your symptoms.

  • Keep all forms of testosterone away from children. They can suffer serious side effects, such as enlarged sexual organs, pronounced bone growth, and aggressive behavior.

  • Beware of testosterone supplements. The FDA doesn't test such products. As a result, their safety and effectiveness may not be known.

  • Avoid taking testosterone if you don't need it. To date, no research has investigated the use of testosterone in healthy men, so the consequences are unclear.


Online Resources

Hormone Health Network - Low Testosterone & Men's Health

Urology Care Foundation - Low Testosterone (Hypogonadism)

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