Testosterone is a sex hormone naturally produced within the body. In men, this hormone helps to maintain sperm production, control sex drive, and regulate muscle mass and bone health. The pituitary gland and the brain control the production of testosterone which is secreted through the testicles.
Low testosterone, also known as hypogonadism, occurs when the body fails to produce an adequate amount of this hormone. This condition is more prevalent as men age, occurring in about 20 percent of men over the age of 60 and increasing to as much as 50 percent in men over the age of 80.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Symptoms of low testosterone may include increased body fat, enlarged breasts, reduced muscle mass, weak bones and decreased energy. Sexual symptoms may include:
- Low libido or reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low sperm count
Causes of Low Testosterone
The causes of low testosterone in males can vary and may include:
- Injury or infection of the testicles
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation
- Certain medications
- Genetic factors
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Chronic diseases such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, HIV or AIDS
- Natural aging process, also known as andropause or male menopause
In addition, men with hypertension or high blood pressure may also suffer from low testosterone levels.
Diagnosis of Low Testosterone
To diagnose low testosterone, the doctor will perform a physical examination and review of all symptoms. Testosterone levels will be checked and additional tests may include:
- Blood tests
- PSA test
Treatment of Low Testosterone
Most treatments deal with replacing the testosterone in the body. Often referred to as testosterone replacement therapy, these methods include administering medication and hormones through:
- Gel or patches applied to the skin
- Implantable testosterone pellets
- Oral inserts
This treatment is effective in restoring normal testosterone levels in the male body and reducing symptoms, however, men treated with testosterone may be at an increased risk for the development of benign prostatic hyperplasia or an enlarged prostate.
Patients should keep in mind that that testosterone replacement therapy is considered a lifelong treatment option, and stopping this treatment will result in a decline in testosterone levels.