Testosterone is known as a male hormone but it is present in the bodies of women and men. In men, it is produced by the testicles and is the main sex hormone. It is responsible for proper male sexual development and function. Testosterone is important to fertility because it assists with the daily production of a supply of sperm. It also helps maintain a healthy bone density, builds muscle mass and strength, and regulates the distribution of fat and production of red blood cells. In women, small amounts of testosterone are produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, along with estrogen. This is much smaller than what is produced in a man’s body but it plays an important part in maintaining libido, bone & muscle mass.
What causes low T and what are the symptoms? The amount of testosterone produced by the body decreases with age in both men and women. A condition called hypogonadism (low T) results in men when the testosterone levels drop below normal (about 240 ng/DL). In men, the slow decline in testosterone levels can begin after age 30 and becomes more noticeable in his 40s. Hypogonadism can also be caused by medical conditions not related to aging and therefore may sometimes be experienced by teens and young adults. Issues with the testicles resulting from damage, an infection, or a congenital condition can interfere with the production of testosterone. Also, issues with the pituitary gland or hypothalamus (regulates the secretion of pituitary hormones) can interfere with proper testosterone production even if the testicles have a normal structure.
Symptoms in men include fatigue, depression, erectile dysfunction, a decrease in bone mass and a decline in libido. A blood test to check testosterone levels is used to reach a diagnosis since these symptoms are not unique to hypogonadism.
Low testosterone may occur in women who are entering perimenopause and menopause, as testosterone production by the ovaries declines. Women with low T may experience fatigue, a decline in libido, moodiness, and a decline in muscle and bone mass.
How is low testosterone treated in men? We asked Dr Prakash Thiruppathi, a fertility specialist at the Columbus Center for Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, about the process for treating hypogonadism. Someone who suspects they have low testosterone should consult his doctor. Other conditions may cause the same types of symptoms. Your doctor will test you for other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes first, and determine if you are eligible for testosterone therapy.
Men with certain medical conditions, such as prostate cancer, may not be eligible for testosterone therapy. Dr. Thiruppathi says, “Men who are trying to conceive should not receive testosterone therapy as it will make them infertile.” Testosterone therapy does have
a few possible side effects in addition to low sperm production. Dr. Thiruppathi advises, “Men undergoing testosterone therapy should be monitored for side effects, such as blood thickening or prostate growth.”
Can low testosterone be treated in women? There is a lot less research data about low T in women, but testosterone therapy may benefit some women who experience symptoms. For women who are eligible for treatment, very small amounts of testosterone can be included in a hormone therapy treatment. When asked about possible unwanted side effects, like growth of body hair, Dr Thiruppathi said, “Those are symptoms of high testosterone and should not occur if your treatment has the proper balance of estrogen and testosterone.”