Injection of testosterone may be safer and more effective than transdermal administration for combating loss of muscle and bone in older men

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Jun 15;308(12):E1035-42. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00111.2015. Epub 2015 Apr 21.


The value of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) for older men is currently a topic of intense debate. While US testosterone prescriptions have tripled in the past decade (9), debate continues over the risks and benefits of TRT. TRT is currently prescribed for older men with either low serum testosterone (T) or low T plus accompanying symptoms of hypogonadism. The normal range for serum testosterone is 300 to 1,000 ng/dl. Serum T ≤ 300 ng/dl is considered to be low, and T ≤ 250 is considered to be frank hypogonadism. Most experts support TRT for older men with frank hypogonadism and symptoms. Treatment for men who simply have low T remains somewhat controversial. TRT is most frequently administered by intramuscular (im) injection of long-acting T esters or transdermally via patch or gel preparations and infrequently via oral administration. TRT produces a number of established benefits in hypogonadal men, including increased muscle mass and strength, decreased fat mass, increased bone mineral density, and improved sexual function, and in some cases those benefits are dose dependent. For example, doses of TRT administered by im injection are typically higher than those administered transdermally, which results in greater musculoskeletal benefits. TRT also produces known risks including development of polycythemia (Hct > 50) in 6% of those treated, decrease in HDL, breast tenderness and enlargement, prostate enlargement, increases in serum PSA, and prostate-related events and may cause suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Importantly, TRT does not increase the risk of prostate cancer. Putative risks include edema and worsening of sleep apnea. Several recent reports have also indicated that TRT may produce cardiovascular (CV) risks, while others report no risk or even benefit. To address the potential CV risks of TRT, we have recently reported via meta-analysis that oral TRT increases CV risk and suggested that the CV risk profile for im TRT may be better than that for oral or transdermal TRT.

Keywords: bone; cardiovascular risk; muscle; testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / drug effects
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypogonadism / blood
  • Hypogonadism / drug therapy
  • Injections
  • Male
  • Osteoporosis / blood
  • Osteoporosis / drug therapy*
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control
  • Sarcopenia / blood
  • Sarcopenia / drug therapy*
  • Sarcopenia / prevention & control
  • Testosterone / administration & dosage*
  • Testosterone / adverse effects*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Testosterone