Testosterone is the hormone responsible for deep voices, muscle mass, and facial and body hair patterns found in males. As men get older, the level of testosterone in the body and production of sperm gradually becomes lower, and they experience physical and psychological symptoms as a result of these low levels. This is part of the natural aging process, and it is estimated that testosterone decreases about 10% every decade after men reach the age of 30.
Andropause is a condition that is associated with the decrease in the male hormone testosterone. It is unlike menopause in that the reduction of testosterone and the development of symptoms is more gradual than what occurs in women. Approximately 30% of men in their 50s will experience symptoms of andropause caused by low testosterone levels. A person experiencing andropause may have some symptoms related to the condition and could be at risk of other severe health conditions such as osteoporosis without proper treatment.
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The decrease in testosterone is an essential factor in men suspected of having andropause. However, as men age, not only does the body start making less testosterone, but also the levels of another hormone called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which pulls usable testosterone from the blood, begins to increase. SHBG binds some of the available testosterone circulating in the blood. The testosterone that is not linked to the SHBG hormone is called bioavailable testosterone, meaning it is available for use by the body.
Men who experience symptoms associated with andropause have lowered amounts of bioavailable testosterone in their blood. Therefore, tissues in the body that are stimulated by testosterone receive a lower amount of it, which may cause various physical and possibly mental changes in a person such as mood swings or fatigue.
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Although symptoms may vary from person to person, common symptoms of men going through andropause include:
Complications associated with andropause include an increased risk of cardiovascular problems and osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Do you have low testosterone?
You may think your symptoms are a natural part of aging. Could low testosterone be to blame?
A doctor will ask questions about how you are feeling to see if your symptoms match those of people with low testosterone. Then, a blood test is performed to check the level of testosterone in the blood.
Because other conditions are associated with low testosterone levels (e.g., hypogonadism, which causes retardation of sexual growth and development; diabetes; high blood pressure), your doctor will likely do tests to rule out these possibilities before making a diagnosis of andropause.
It is important to note that many of the symptoms associated with andropause are also a regular part of aging, and they may not be reversible with treatment.
Replacing testosterone in the blood is the most common treatment for men going through andropause. This treatment may provide relief from the symptoms and help improve the quality of life in many cases. Lifestyle changes such as increased exercise, stress reduction, and proper nutrition also help. Your doctor will help you decide if testosterone treatment is right in your situation, as the treatment does have risks.
Testosterone is available in a variety of different preparations including skin patches, capsules, gels, and injections. Your doctor will help determine which treatment is best for you and will often consider your lifestyle when making this decision. Follow-up visits with your doctor will be necessary after the initial treatment begins. At follow-up visits, your doctor will check your response to the treatment and make adjustments, if necessary.
Skin patches: People who wear a patch containing testosterone receive the hormone through the skin. The patch allows a slow, steady release of testosterone into the bloodstream. It is applied once a day to a dry area of skin on the back, abdomen, upper arms, or thighs.
Testosterone gel: This treatment is also applied directly to the skin, usually on the arms. Because the gel may transfer to other individuals through skin contact, a person must take care to wash the gel from the hands after each application.
Capsules: Taken twice daily after meals, this is yet another option for testosterone replacement. Men with liver disease, poor liver function, severe heart or kidney disease, or too much calcium in their blood should avoid testosterone capsules.
Testosterone injections: This treatment involves injections of testosterone (testosterone cypionate* and testosterone enanthate) in the muscle every 2 to 4 weeks. They may cause mood swings due to changes in testosterone levels. Men with severe heart disease, severe kidney disease, or too much calcium in their blood should avoid testosterone cypionate. Men with severe kidney disease should not take testosterone enanthate.
Testosterone should not be taken by any man with prostate or breast cancer. If you have heart disease, are taking some medications such as blood thinners, have an enlarged prostate, or have kidney or liver disease, you will need to discuss with your doctor whether or not testosterone therapy is right for you.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A prescription may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medicine, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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