Testosterone gel linked to heart problems

Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:23pm EDT
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By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - Testosterone treatments may build muscle mass in older men, but they may carry a risk of heart problems in people with poor mobility, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

The Massachusetts study, reported online by the New England Journal of Medicine, was halted after six months because the men using a hormone gel were developing so many heart, breathing and skin problems compared to patients applying a placebo gel to their shoulders or upper arms every day.

"I think the study raises important questions about the safety of giving testosterone to older individuals," Dr. Shalender Bhasin of the Boston University School of Medicine said in a telephone interview.

Levels of testosterone, the so-called male hormone, decline with age in men. Supplementing it in healthy men can build muscle mass and strength and lower the risk of disability.

The new test was the first to assess its effectiveness in men over 65 who already had mobility problems such as difficulty walking two blocks or climbing 10 stairs.

The 209 volunteers, with an average age of 74, also tended to suffer from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol at the start of the test. "One would expect that from a frail, older population," said Bhasin.

Recipients of the testosterone gel, sold under the brand name Testim by Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, became better at walking up stairs and performing chest- and leg-press exercises.

But by the time the study was terminated, 23 patients in the testosterone group and five in the placebo group had experienced a bad side effect such as fainting, chest pain or heart attack. One man in the testosterone group died of a suspected heart attack.   Continued...