Testosterone is primarily responsible for the proper function of the male reproductive system. This hormone regulates sex drive, prostate function, and sperm production. Testosterone is also responsible for the male-specific changes that occur during puberty, including bone and muscle development, the lowering of the voice, body hair growth, and facial hair growth.
A certain amount of testosterone is needed for optimal health in men. Testosterone levels start to gradually decline after age 30. Older men naturally have lower testosterone levels than young men. A certain level of testosterone loss is normal in older adults. However, if testosterone drops low enough to produce symptoms, then it is not normal. Clinically low testosterone requires proper treatment and should not be ignored.
Low Testosterone: Signs and Symptoms
The following are the typical signs of male testosterone deficiency:
- Breast tissue development
- Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence
- Hot flashes and sweating
- Loss of body hair
- Low sex drive
- Reduced bone mass
- Reduced muscle mass
- Reduced semen volume
- Weak orgasms or inability to orgasm
- Weight gain
Because all of these symptoms can also be symptoms of other conditions, only a qualified medical professional can diagnose a man with testosterone deficiency. The doctor may use a review of the patient’s medical history, a physical exam, blood tests, and other measures to determine whether the patient really has a clinical testosterone deficiency. The doctor may also conduct other tests to determine the underlying cause of the low hormone levels.
These symptoms are those of adult-onset testosterone deficiency. The symptoms of testosterone deficiency beginning during fetal development or adolescence are quite different. A baby boy that developed in the womb without having enough testosterone may be born with underdeveloped genitals. An adolescent boy with a testosterone deficiency may fail to go through the normal changes of puberty, maintaining the appearance and voice of a prepubescent child. However, this article will simply focus on testosterone deficiency in adult men.
Causes of Low Testosterone in Men
Though a small amount of testosterone is produced by the adrenal glands, the majority of it is produced in the testicles. The testicles are signaled to produce testosterone by the pituitary gland, which in turn is controlled by the hypothalamus of the brain. Therefore, the underlying cause of testosterone deficiency in men can be caused by problems with the testes themselves, the pituitary gland, or the hypothalamus.
When the testosterone deficiency is caused by a problem with testes themselves, it is referred to as primary hypogonadism. Potential causes of primary hypogonadism include:
- Damage to the testes from cancer treatments
- Genetic conditions
- Infection of the testes
- Injury to the testes
- Too much iron in the blood
- Undescended testicles
When low testosterone levels are caused by problems with the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, the condition is referred to as secondary hypogonadism. Reasons for pituitary or hypothalamus problems can include:
- Genetic conditions
- HIV and AIDS
- Inflammatory diseases
- Pituitary disorders
- Tumors of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus
Most cases of secondary hypogonadism are caused by pituitary problems. Low testosterone originating from hypothalamus problems is very rare. It is also possible to have mixed hypogonadism, or low testosterone caused by factors from both the primary and secondary categories.
How to Regain Normal Testosterone
A quick internet search will reveal hordes of articles promising the reader easy ways to increase testosterone. There are a huge range of supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and herbs, that are used for boosting testosterone. Most of the supplements you find online that claim to increase testosterone will be ineffective. Though some can cause a mild increase in testosterone level, most testosterone supplements on the market have no scientific evidence.
There are also general lifestyle recommendations for improving low testosterone in men. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and building muscle mass are the principal lifestyle changes. These measures are great for general health and can indeed be effective for optimizing hormone balance.
However, when a patient has been diagnosed with clinical low testosterone, he should not rely on these non-medical interventions. Instead, he should get real help from a qualified medical professional. This is because the self-treatment methods are unreliable; a method may help some men but not others. Additionally, these self-treatment measures are usually not powerful enough to treat full-blown testosterone deficiency in men.
Treating Low Testosterone
If a man has many of the symptoms of a testosterone deficiency, he should find out for sure by visiting his doctor. Men who have measurably low testosterone as demonstrated by blood tests should use testosterone replacement therapy for their condition. If a man relies on self-treatment measures as described previously, he may not actually increase his testosterone if his chosen treatment does not turn out to be effective, putting himself at risk of the more serious low testosterone complications such as depression and low bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Hormone replacement therapy is testosterone that comes in the form of a pill, skin patch, topical cream, or injection. This type of medication adds the testosterone to your body that you are missing, and is virtually guaranteed to be effective.
Testosterone therapy for men is a potent medication that should not be taken lightly. Therefore, it is only available with a prescription from a doctor. The medication should be used as directed, and only for the treatment of testosterone deficiency in men. It should not be used for achieving aesthetic or athletic results, nor should it be used by children or adolescents. If you suspect you may have low testosterone, contact a doctor.