Testosterone Gel Side Effects: Are You at Risk?
What Is Testosterone Gel?
Testosterone gel is used to treat symptoms of androgen deficiency (AD) syndromes. AD can cause low testosterone in men, which may lead to characteristic decreases in energy, metabolism, and sex drive. Like other forms of testosterone therapy, testosterone gel can cause side effects in some men.
What makes the gel unique is that its side effects can spread to others through contact with the medication. Understanding the risks can help protect you and your loved ones from testosterone gel dangers.
How Testosterone Gel Works
AD syndromes are diagnosed through a combination of medical history and physical examinations. Your doctor also can determine low testosterone levels associated with AD through a blood test. According to the Hormone Health Network, a normal testosterone level is between 300 and 1,000 ng/dL. Consistently lower levels can indicate a problem with the body’s natural ability to produce testosterone.
Testosterone gel is just one of the various types of medications prescribed for such cases. The gel is designed for men who prefer the product over patches and injections. Like the patches, testosterone gel is applied topically daily.
Common Side Effects in Men
Any time you medically increase hormone levels, there’s a risk for side effects. Specifically, testosterone gel may cause:
- dry skin or acne
- hot flashes
- insomnia (which may be caused by hot flashes at night)
- anxiety or depression
- muscle pain and weakness
- further decrease in libido
- reduced sperm count
While many of these symptoms aren’t severe, they can become bothersome. It’s important to tell your doctor about any side effects if they persist for more than a few days.
Serious Side Effects to Look Out For
Other side effects of testosterone gel in men can be more serious. These may include:
- breast pain or enlargement
- difficulty or frequently urinating
- prolonged or frequent erections
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
Notify your doctor immediately if any of these side effects occur. Allergic reactions to testosterone therapy can increase your risk for similar reactions to testosterone gel. Seek medical help if you experience breathing difficulties or swelling in any part of the body.
When to Avoid Testosterone Gel
Despite the benefits of testosterone gel, such medications aren’t a good fit for all men with AD. Testosterone gel doesn’t pose the same risks to liver damage as other forms of testosterone do. However, it still may increase your risk for prostate cancer.
For this reason, your doctor will assess your risks for prostate cancer, which may include an examination of the prostate and a blood test that measures prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels.
Other factors that may prevent you from being a good candidate for the gel include:
- sleep apnea
- heart disease
- breast cancer
- high levels of red blood cells
Effects on Women
While testosterone gel is designed for men, the effects can extend to women. Although the risk is low side effects may occur when women either touch the product directly or through clothing.
Signs of contact include increased acne and unusual hair growth. If you’re a woman who lives with someone using testosterone gel, it’s imperative that you avoid contact with the product entirely.
Dangerous Effects in Children
Children are the most susceptible to the risks associated with testosterone gel because their bodies are still developing. Particular care in using the medication is strongly encouraged if you ever have any contact with children—even those who don’t live with you.
Testosterone gel can cause numerous problems in children including:
- anxiety and aggression
- early puberty
- increased sex drive
- frequent erections in males
- enlarged clitoris in females
- stunted growth
Preventing Contact with Others
Prevent testosterone gel transfers to others. Always apply the gel before getting dressed, and make sure it’s completely dry to avoid transfer to clothing. Once applied, wash your hands thoroughly, and clean the application area if you expect any skin-to-skin contact. If you suspect accidental product contact with a woman or child, make sure they wash their skin right away and call a doctor.
Dangers of testosterone gel exposure to women and children are real, and should be taken seriously. As a user of the medicine, it’s also important to protect yourself.
Report any unusual side effects to your doctor right away. Never share your medication with anyone, and don’t use testosterone gel that isn’t prescribed to you.
This drug is intended for AD syndromes, and is not an anti-aging cure that some unreputable companies make out such products to be.
- Testosterone Therapy in Men (2010, June). Hormone Health Network. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.hormone.org/patient-guides/2010/testosterone-therapy-in-men
- Testosterone Topical (2009, July 1). Medline Plus. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a605020.html
- Testosterone Gel Medication Guide (2012, February). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.fda.gov/downloads/drugs/drugsafety/ucm294248.pdf