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Study links testosterone to heart attacks

Thu., Jan. 30, 2014

Men over 65, as well as younger men with diagnosed heart disease, were at least twice as likely to have nonfatal heart attacks in the 90 days after they were prescribed testosterone medication than were men of the same age and health status who did not get the hormone supplement, a study has found.

For men under 65 with no diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, testosterone supplementation did not appear to raise heart attack risk, the study suggests. But among men older than 65, many of whom may have had undiagnosed risk factors, rates of nonfatal heart attack rose as much as threefold in the 90 days after they filled a prescription for testosterone medication.

The research marks the third time in four years that a well-conducted study has detected signs that testosterone supplementation may carry substantial risks for many men. It appeared Wednesday in the journal Public Library of Science and was authored by a team from the National Cancer Institute; Los Angeles-based Consolidated Research Inc., which develops statistical methods and software; and UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.

In 2010 and in November of last year, studies appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the Journal of the American Medical Association found evidence that men taking testosterone, especially those who were frail, elderly or had cardiovascular disease, were more likely than those who did not take the hormone to suffer a range of cardiovascular “events” – from heart attack to emergency artery-clearing procedures – soon after they began taking the supplement.

Those red flags have mounted against a backdrop of explosive growth in prescriptions for testosterone patches, topical gels and creams, now used by some 2.9 percent of U.S. men over 40. From 2000 to 2011, such prescriptions increased fivefold, driven by aggressive advertising campaigns urging men with flagging energy, sagging muscle tone and low libido to seek treatment for “low T.”

Today, American men are thought to spend $1.6 billion annually on prescription testosterone supplements.

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