TODAY   |  May 28, 2013

‘Low-T’ drugs raise medical questions

In the past year, drug companies have spent more than $100 million marketing low-testosterone, or low-T, drug treatments, but Consumer Reports’ medical experts are saying the benefits of the drugs may not outweigh the risks. TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie reports and Dr. Michael Krychman comments on the drug.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a new report is raising some questions this morning about those advertisements you see nearly everywhere for medications to treat low testosterone levels. but are those products really safe? some say maybe not. nbc's kevin tibbles has more.

>> he's going to apply testosterone to his under arm.

>> reporter: you've probably seen the ads.

>> both are used to treat men with low testosterone .

>> reporter: drug companies offering help for men with low t.

>> they are everywhere. the amount of money spent on advertising has absolutely gone insane.

>> reporter: as men age, the amount of testosterone in the body gradually declines. medical experts say that can lead to a decrease in libido. there are several drugs approved by the fda to treat men with testosterone levels well below normal. a condition can known as hypo gonadism. drug companies refer to it as low t. " consumer reports " says drug companies spent $1 million on tuzzing in 2010 . that number skyrocketed to more than $100 million in 2012 .

>> the ads, though, make it look as though perhaps it suggests maybe every man may suffer from lower testosterone. and that's what -- that's what really has got us worried.

>> reporter: " consumer reports " medical experts say the benefits of testosterone may not outweigh the risks of taking the hormone.

>> some of the side effects associated with using testosterone drugs are blood clots in the legs, swollen feet and ankles, sleep apnea, enlarged breasts, enlargeded prostate.

>> reporter: we contacted the drug makers for the response, abbvie, the maker of andro gel, said, andro gel has more than ten years of clinical, safety, published and post marketing data with therapeutic risks well documented in the prescribing label. lilly said, "we encourage patients to talk to their physicians to weigh the benefits and risks before taking any prescription. axiron is a prescription medication , approved by the fda for men with certain conditions associated with a deficiency or absence of testosterone." both drug companies recommend consulting with your doctor before taking any medication.

>> it's always important to get to the underlying reason of why the testosterone level is low. it's not enough to make the diagnosis, but to figure out why there is a low testosterone level. there is definitely a role for testosterone therapy. but it needs to be used safely and appropriately.

>> reporter: for "today," kevin tibbles, nbc news, chicago.

>>> dr. michael crispman is a sexual health specialist. good morning. good to see you. so as the piece suggests, most men as they get older see a decline in their testosterone levels. so if that's the case, all of us should not be running out to see a doctor, i would imagine. when is it severe enough to warrant some kind of therapy or treatment?

>> well, you're right, matt. i think that it's really important that we recognize that as men age, the testosterone levels do decline. and that's a normal process of andropause or getting older. but when the symptoms become severe and they're really problematic, i think it's time to start looking at the concerns in terms of depression and in terms of loss of libido.

>> when you say loss of libido, which is the one that's going to get the most attention, i think, from a lot of men, although depression is obviously very serious, how severe a loss of libido would you have to experience before you start taking one of these drugs?

>> well, i think it's important to recognize that, like aging, libido does change. and we need to understand that there's a lot of factors when it comes to libido. and when people are complaining and it's impacting their relationship or even how they feel about themselves, it's really time to start looking into other cases.

>> and the piece also made -- you know, raised the question, does the treatment, the risk of the treatment outweigh the benefit. what's your opinion on that?

>> well, i think that there is really good data to support the fact that in selected patients, testosterone, when they really have a very low level with associated symptoms that are severe and problematic and really impacting their ability to function, it's really important that we know that they can be affected. but should it be given to everybody, probably not.

>> we heard the list of potential side effects . there is something else that wasn't addressed. if you've got this product at home, if someone else comes into contact with it who is not suffering from low-t, do they get the same side effects ?

>> yeah, of course. we know there could be issues in terms of transfer, both to women and children , and those people that come in contact with it can can certainly have and develop side effects , as well.

>> dr. michael crispman, thank you