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Male Hormone May Help Heart Failure Patients

Testosterone-Treated Patients Exercised More in Studies
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 17, 2012 -- Treatment with testosterone may help heart failure patients feel better and exercise more, preliminary research shows.

The finding comes from four small studies of people with heart failure. The researchers analyzed the results from all of those studies and found that those who took testosterone supplements were able to exercise longer than those who didn't.

Testosterone occurs naturally in men and women. But testosterone levels decline with age, which can contribute to decreases in muscle mass and strength.

Though patients in the trials appeared to benefit from supplemental testosterone, larger and longer studies are needed to prove the treatment is safe and effective, says researcher Justin A. Ezekowitz, MD, who directs the Heart Function Clinic at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

"We definitely don't want patients or their loved ones rushing out to buy testosterone supplements online, or physicians to misinterpret the findings," Ezekowitz says.

5 Million in U.S. Have Heart Failure

Heart failure is a leading cause of hospitalization in people over the age of 65 in the U.S.

About 5 million Americans have heart failure, and each year about half a million more get diagnosed with it, which means their hearts have a reduced capacity to pump blood efficiently.

When this happens, the heart can become enlarged, fluid may build up in the soft tissues and organs, and people typically become exhausted with exertion.

"Patients with heart failure don't feel very well, in part because they can't exercise," says Clyde Yancy, MD, chief of cardiology at Chicago's Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

"The idea of a novel treatment approach that can help improve exercise capacity is very intriguing," he says.

The studies included nearly 200 patients, most of whom were men. They were 67 years old, on average.

About half the patients received testosterone by injection, patch, or gel, for as little as three months or as long as a year. The other half got a placebo.

The study appears in the journal Circulation.

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