AndroGel (testosterone gel) is used by millions of men to treat symptoms of “Low T,” which may include loss of libido, decreased energy, and diminished sex drive. However, new research linking AndroGel and blood clots is raising concern that the life-threatening side effects of AndroGel may outweigh its benefits for many patients.
AndroGel Blood Clots
AndroGel is a testosterone treatment gel that comes in 1% and 1.62% concentrations. Its manufacturer, AbbVie, has launched an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at men over 40 with low testosterone or “Low T,” claiming it can boost mood, strength, energy, sex drive, and more.
This campaign has successfully turned AndroGel into a billion-dollar product. Millions of men have committed to a lifetime of treatment, because once patients start testosterone supplements, the body naturally stops producing the hormone.
AndroGel has clear benefits for men with missing testicles or a medical condition causing low testosterone (hypogonadism). However, for men who are losing testosterone due to the natural aging process, the risk of blood clots from AndroGel may significantly outweigh any benefits.
How Does AndroGel Increase the Risk of a Blood Clot?
AndroGel makes several physiological changes that predispose blood clot formation:
- Increasing blood pressure (hypertension)
- Increasing the number of red blood cells
- Thickening the blood (hyperviscocity)
- Decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Increasing free-circulating estrogens
Notably, estrogen therapy was once touted to post-menopausal women in the 1990s. However, it has since been linked to an increased risk of blood clots, heart attack, and breast cancer. Although millions of men are on testosterone therapy, no long-term safety studies have been conducted.
Blood Clot Complications
- Heart attack: Blood clots block coronary arteries and cut off circulation to heart muscle.
- Stroke: Also known as “transient ischemic attack,” blood clots restrict oxygen in the brain.
- Pulmonary embolism: Blood clots in the lungs.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Blood clots deep inside veins in the lower legs, thigh, or pelvis.
- Cardiac arrhythmia: Irregular heart rhythm.
Studies Linking AndroGel and Blood Clots
If AndroGel causes blood clots, they can travel to the heart and cause a heart attack. In January 2014, a study published in PLoS One found that men over 65 were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack within 90 days of starting testosterone therapy. A few months earlier, another study linked testosterone to a 30% increased risk of heart attack.
In August 2013, Dr. Charles Glueck and colleagues published a study linking testosterone therapy and blood clots. During the study, blood clots caused one patient to develop osteonecrosis (bone death) in the hip, and another patient went blind in one eye. According to Dr. Glueck:
“Our research found that 1.2% of men who landed in the hospital with dangerous and potentially lethal blood clots in the deep veins of the legs or in the lungs developed these clots within three months of starting testosterone therapy.”