Male hormone patches to increase low testosterone levels were launched on the NHS yesterday - with a warning that doctors could not cope if they were swamped by middle-aged men looking to boost their love lives.
The patches are for men with a medical condition which results in low testosterone, but the fear is that men with normal levels who believe their sex drive is falling will inundate GPs with requests for the treatment.
The patches, called Andropatch, are meant for men suffering from hypogonadism. This can result from damage to the testes through disease or accidents, a malfunctioning of the pituitary gland which controls the release of sex hormones, or some rare inherited conditions.
Men with the condition suffer from impotence and loss of libido, fatigue, loss of muscle power and depression. In the long term they are at risk of osteoporosis.
The patches, made by SmithKline Beecham, are said to restore testosterone levels to within the range found in normal men in 90% of patients.
Two have to be worn, with the manufacturers recommending they be applied at around 10pm. The patches cost $1.60 a day - $584 a year - and will need to be worn for life.
Other methods of low testosterone treatment are available through capsules, injections, or pellets inserted under the skin. The patches are said to be easier to use and more closely mimic the natural release of testosterone, rather than causing peaks and troughs like other methods.
Pierre-Marc Bouloux, an endocrinologist from the Royal Free hospital, London, said around one man in 200 suffered from hypogonadism.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 men were known to be taking some form of testosterone replacement therapy in Britain, but there were probably an equal number with undiagnosed hypogonadism who could benefit from treatment.
Ian Banks, a GP from Northern Ireland who acts as spokesman on male health for the British Medical Association, said GPs could not cope with a sudden flood of men wanting the patches.
He said tiredness and impotence were far more likely to be caused by overwork, marital problems, job insecurity or alcohol abuse, but men were likely to see testosterone replacement therapy as an instant fix to their problems.
“If this is presented as a wonder drug, or a panacea, or the elixir of life, which it is not, GPs will not be able to cope. There will very quickly be an overload on our time and our finances, not just from the cost of the patches but also from the costs of the tests to diagnose low testosterone.”
He added: “There is no way we could offer this to every man who feels he is going through a mid-life crisis.”