Testosterone has earned itself a reputation as the hormone that wreaks havoc with teenage boys at puberty, causing growth spurts and voice changes. However, most men don’t know much about their own testosterone levels, or even that it’s normal for these levels to go down with age.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the most important male sex hormone or “androgen”. It is mainly produced in the testicles, but its production slows down with age (“androgen deficiency”). In some men, the resulting drop in the levels of testosterone in the blood can be so slight that it goes unnoticed. In other men, however, these levels fall further or more quickly, causing symptoms.
What causes low testosterone?
Low testosterone is a normal part of aging, but it may also be genetic or may be caused by a problem with the pituitary gland. Levels can also be affected by certain medications, by being significantly overweight or by changing stress levels.
What can happen if testosterone is low?
Healthcare professionals estimate that about a third of all men aged 60 years or older suffer from low testosterone, which may cause symptoms like reduced sex drive, poor erections and enlarged breasts. In addition, low testosterone can lead to insomnia, hair loss, reduced muscle mass, an increased risk of falls, hip fractures, anemia, type 2 diabetes and depression. Low testosterone is also associated with an increased risk of death due to heart disease and respiratory disease.
How can I tell if I have low testosterone?
A blood test is the only way to determine whether your testosterone levels are normal or low. The symptoms can be subtle and may also be caused by certain medications, thyroid problems, depression or drinking too much alcohol. An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in treating hormone problems, and these specialists can determine if low testosterone levels are present and possibly causing you symptoms.
The bottom line? Before or around the age of 60, learn the symptoms of low testosterone.