November 6, 2013
Extra Doses of Testosterone May Lead To Heart Attacks
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests testosterone drugs increase the risk of heart problems in older men. These drugs are often taken by men who find themselves depressed, running low on energy, or experiencing a decreased sex drive.
The study, conducted by Michael Ho with the Veteran Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care System, doesn’t identify why this risk is increased or how these drugs affect younger men who take them. The number of men taking testosterone has tripled in the last ten years, likely due to pharmaceutical companies like AbbVie (ABBV) spending millions of dollars on advertising. According to Bloomberg, ABBV is expecting to earn $1.14 billion this year from sales of their testosterone drug, Androgel.
According to Ho, more research should be done into the long-term health effects testosterone can have on men. This becomes increasingly important as more men begin taking the drugs at a younger age.
"It does kind of raise the question of, maybe when patients and their physicians are thinking about starting testosterone therapy, potential risks such as the ones we looked at should be in that discussion," said Ho in an interview.
In the study, Ho and colleagues analyzed data from over 8,000 men with low testosterone levels who were treated by the US Veteran Affairs system between 2005 and 2011. Each of these men, aged 60 and older, also had high blood pressure, blocked arteries and other health issues. During the study, 20 percent of the men who didn’t start a testosterone regimen died from heart attack, stroke or other causes. Alternatively, 26 percent of the men who did start taking a drug like Androgel died from the same conditions. After accounting for the health conditions of these men, Ho and team say testosterone is responsible for a 29-percent increase of heart failure in older men. Furthermore, the researchers say not taking testosterone at all can also improve other health issues in aging men.
It’s estimated that some five million men in America do not produce enough testosterone on their own. Men who do not make any testosterone or only make it in such small quantities can be diagnosed with a condition called hypogonadism. These men can then be prescribed ABBV’s Androgel, a treatment meant to increase testosterone, or “T”, levels.
In a statement, a spokesperson for ABBV praised the drug for its ten years of “clinical, safety, published and post-marketing data, with its therapeutic risks well-documented in the prescribing label.” The spokesperson echoed Ho and encouraged men to discuss their condition with their doctor and make a decision about their treatment together.
"I don’t know if the findings of this study would necessarily say that all men should not be on testosterone therapy,” said Ho. “It provides additional information that they can talk to their physician about.”
In an editorial accompanying the published paper, associate JAMA editor Anne Cappola questioned why so many younger men are taking the drug. “For the men who are healthier, my question would be, why are you taking this? And is there any risk that's acceptable for the benefits they are getting?"