The Truth About Testosterone Treatments

If you spend much time at all watching sports or other television programming aimed at men, you will have heard about testosterone treatment. Testosterone supplements have been touted as the libido enhancing, anti-aging miracle drug. However, these over-the-counter medications are not as effective as advertised. For some men, testosterone replacement therapy, when overseen by a doctor, can be medically beneficial, but knowing the truth about these treatments and how they potentially affect the body is crucial.

Facts About Testosterone

Testosterone is often considered the "male" hormone, as it directly affects male puberty and reproduction. Normal testosterone levels are between 300 and 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), and levels change from hour to hour, typically highest in the morning and lowest at night. Exercise, poor nutrition, illness and even medications can also temporarily lower testosterone levels.

As a man ages, testosterone levels drop by 1 percent each year after age 30. However, this does not mean most older men have depleted levels. In order to get a good idea of a man's testosterone levels, readings must be taken more than once to see what they are doing over time.

Proper Use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Testosterone therapy is properly used to treat the medical condition called hypogonadism. Male hypogonadism is a combination of low testosterone combined with symptoms, including:

  • Low libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lowered sperm count
  • Infertility
  • Breast enlargement
  • Low energy
  • Increased irritability
  • Concentration problems
  • Depression
  • Hot flashes

Testosterone treatment is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to improve strength, athletic performance, appearance or normal problems associated with aging; which some makers of supplements call low testosterone symptoms. Using testosterone therapy in this way can have adverse side effects. In addition, men who have enlarged prostates, prostate cancer or breast cancer, high red blood cell counts, uncontrolled heart failure, or untreated sleep apnea should not use any form of testosterone.

Testosterone Therapy Methods

The cause of your low testosterone will dictate the best type of treatment, as well as the cost of your treatment, fertility concerns and your tolerance. Common treatment options include:

  • Injections delivered every one to two weeks by your doctor
  • Gels or solutions applied to the skin
  • Patches to apply the hormone to the skin
  • Buccal tablets absorbed in the mouth
  • Pellets surgically implanted under the skin
  • Nasal gel applied into the nostril three times per day

Each of these has potential side effects that patients should discuss with their doctors before beginning treatment.

Testosterone Therapy Side Effects and Risks

As with any hormonal treatment, testosterone therapy does pose some risks. While there is no scientific evidence that long-term therapy will cause prostate cancer or actual cardiovascular events, it can cause:

  • Elevated red blood cell counts
  • Acne
  • Sleep apnea
  • Breast and prostate enlargement

Because prostate cells are stimulated by testosterone, patients should be monitored for prostate cancer, especially if they are at risk. However, as long as the therapy is done correctly and monitored by a doctor, using FDA-approved hormones for FDA-approved reasons, the therapy is considered safe and effective.

If you are suffering from hypogonadism or have questions about testosterone therapy, your endocrinologist will be your best source of information. To find an endocrinologist near you, visit our referral directory.