NEW YORK — Testosterone therapy, a $1.6 billion market for drug companies , boosted the odds of dying or having a heart attack or stroke by 29 percent in one of the first studies weighing the supplement’s cardiovascular risk.
The findings came from a review of 8,709 men treated in the Veterans Affairs health system, many with underlying illnesses including prior heart attacks and diabetes. Although the study did not identify a reason for the risk, testosterone is known to worsen sleep apnea and affect blood platelets, linked to atherosclerosis and coronary plaque, the authors said.
The researchers urged more study on testosterone. Anne Cappola, an associate editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published the report Tuesday, said men need to be made aware of the risks by their doctors.
Some ‘‘think it’s the fountain of youth,’’ Cappola said in a telephone interview. ‘‘It’s going to give them back sexual performance, strength, and endurance. The direct marketing of testosterone is playing into that. There needs to be that other voice saying there’s no medication out there with all benefit and no risk.’’
Testosterone treatments are given through gels, patches, and injections. Prescriptions for the supplements rose more than fivefold to 5.3 million in 2011 from 2000, the authors said.
About 5 million American men do not produce enough of the hormone, according to the National Institutes of Health. A study in Europe published a decade ago found 1 in 5 men older than 50 has moderate-to-severe symptoms of testosterone deficiency.