Testosterone therapy tied to higher heart risk

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Testosterone therapy has become quite the craze for American men hoping to boost energy, muscle and sex drive. But research published Tuesday finds "T" therapy raises the chances of heart attacks, strokes and death.

Paul Farmer is an echocardiology tech who looks at hearts all day. He wanted to get to the heart of why he was sluggish and sometimes moody. Blood testing revealed the 48-year-old had low testosterone. He was prescribed testosterone shots.

"It's helped with my sleep. I feel like I'm more rested and also, I have more energy," said Farmer.

Prescriptions for "T" in shots, gels, patches and pellets have skyrocketed. In 2011 alone, it was a 1.6 billion dollar business with many "T" clinics sprouting up.

But is it risky business for men?

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests it is. Researchers looked at more than 8,000 veterans whose average age was in their early sixties. Many had known heart disease. Over a three-year period, those on testosterone therapy were about six percent more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die.

"For us in cardiology, that's a very significant increase," said Dr. Tony Zink of Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute.

Dr. Zink said testosterone therapy raises red blood cell counts which can raise the chances of blood clots. It can also raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

"It concerned me before this study, but it just adds some hard data to the fact that maybe testosterone is not as safe as we think it is," said Dr. Zink.

He says more research is needed to see if it also raises the risk in younger, healthy men over time.

Even though Farmer looks at heart disease every day in his job, he's not concerned.

"I'm very happy. I think the outcome outweighs the risk as well," said Farmer.

But Dr. Zink said any man should get an assessment of his cardiovascular health before going on "T" therapy.

Some other research has found that low testosterone may also increase the risk of heart trouble.

This Thursday, on FOX 4 News at 10 p.m., Medical Reporter Meryl Lin McKean will have more on "T" therapy. Is it terrific or terrible? She'll reveal one risk that many men don't know about.

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