Testosterone for Erection Problems

When you need it—and when you don’t

Most men have problems with erections from time to time. But some men have erectile dysfunction, or ED. This is when it is hard to get or keep an erection that’s firm enough for sexual intercourse.

If you have ED, you may think that testosterone treatment will help. Testosterone is a male sex hormone. After age 50, men’s levels of testosterone slowly go down and ED becomes more common. But unless you have other symptoms of low testosterone, you should think twice about the treatment. Here’s why:

Testosterone treatment usually isn’t helpful for ED.

Testosterone treatment does not improve erections in men with normal testosterone levels. And studies show that it does not help men with low testosterone levels if ED is their only symptom.

ED usually has other causes.

ED is almost always caused by low blood flow to the penis. This is a result of other conditions, such as hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These conditions narrow the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis.

Low testosterone may affect the desire for sex, but it rarely causes ED.

Testosterone treatment has many risks.

Testosterone treatment can cause the body to retain too much fluid. It can also cause acne, an enlarged prostate, and enlarged breasts. Other side effects include lower fertility; an increase in red blood cells, which can lead to heart disease; an increase in sleep apnea symptoms; and a higher risk of prostate cancer growing faster.

Women and children should avoid touching un­washed or unclothed areas of skin where a man has applied testosterone gel. The gel can be transferred through skin contact.

The treatment can cost a lot.

Testosterone treatment can be an injection, a gel, or a patch applied to the skin. All of them are costly.

  • Injections can cost up to $40 a month.
  • Skin patches can cost from $200 to more than $400 a month.
  • Skin gel—the most popular form of treatment— can cost from $250 to more than $500 a month.

Men who use a testosterone treatment must use it indefinitely to get and keep the full effect.

When should you consider testosterone treatment for ED?

If you’ve had trouble having erections for three months, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will ask about all your symptoms and give you a physical exam.

Symptoms of low testosterone can include less of a sex drive, loss of body hair, breast growth, need­ing to shave less often, a drop in muscle size and strength, and bones that break more easily.

If you have some of these symptoms, your doctor may have you get a blood test to measure your testosterone levels. The blood test should be done more than once. It is best to do it in the morning when testosterone levels are highest.

If the tests show that you have low testosterone levels, your doctor should look for possible causes. For example, the low levels might be caused by a problem in the pituitary glands.

If no other cause is found, you can try testosterone treatment.

This report is for you to use when talking with your health-care provider. It is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment. Use of this report is at your own risk.

© 2012 Consumer Reports. Developed in cooperation with the American Urological Association. To learn more about the sources used in this report and terms and conditions of use, visit ConsumerHealthChoices.org/about-us/.

02/2013