"After age 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in testosterone," says David Samadi, MD, chairman of the urology department at Lenox Hill Hospital in nyc.
Although testosterone levels never reach zero (as estrogen levels do in women during menopause), low testosterone levels men to experience symptoms like fatigue, low sex drive, and reduction of muscle mass.
While low testosterone is more common in older men, it may occur in younger men also. Fortunately, every one of the causes of low testosterone in young men are curable, so if you encounter such symptoms at any given age, there's no reason to ignore it.
Causes of Low Testosterone in Younger Men
For younger guys, a drop in testosterone levels can be brought on by some illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, diabetes, chronic liver or kidney disease, COPD or other lung disorder, or adrenal gland problems, based on Dr. Samadi.
Genetic causes of low testosterone in males include the diseases Klinefelter syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Myotonic dystrophy. Another disease that can result in low testosterone is hemochromatosis, which makes the body store too much iron.
"Low testosterone can also result when something happens, like trauma or steroid use, that prevents the testes from making the hormone," states Bruce Gilbert, MD, PhD, an adjunct clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of reproductive and sexual medicine at the Smith Institute for Urology of their North Shore-LIJ Health System.
Other causes of low testosterone in men younger than 50 contain adrenal gland tumors, HIV disease, and radiation treatment or chemotherapy for cancer.
Doctors categorize causes of low testosterone as secondary or primary.
"Primary hypogonadism stems from a problem in the testicles," Samadi states.
Is It Low Testosterone?
Irrespective of the reason, low testosterone symptoms are the same.
"Symptoms include low libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, decreased mental acuity, and moodiness," Dr. Gilbert says.
If you suspect low testosterone, the first step is to see your primary care physician. Your doctor can diagnose low testosterone with a blood test.
If your blood test reveals low testosterone (usually defined as a level lower than 300 ng/dL), the doctor may treat you or refer you to a specialist, such as a urologist or endocrinologist.
"When it comes to treating low testosterone in younger men, we usually reserve treatment for those who have symptoms, such as fatigue and low libido," Gilbert says.
In men who don't make the hormone in their testes because of a condition such as Klinefelter syndrome, or those who have lost their testes because of cancer, the only option is testosterone replacement therapy.
In these circumstances,"treatments are often used just in the brief term, and if a physician has close monitoring and understanding of the individual," Gilbert says.
An important consideration for younger men before getting treatment is fertility. "You do not wish to offer supplemental testosterone to guys who are interested in being fertile since it can turn off sperm production," Gilbert says.
Once a young man goes off testosterone supplementation, there's a chance his sperm count will never return to what it was before he started. "Hence, men of reproductive age should think about alternatives which may increase their testosterone as well as preserve their sperm production," he says. One such alternative is a class of drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs).
Other treatments for low testosterone include weight loss and other lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy and raising exercise.
The main point, however, is that if you have low testosterone symptoms, it's very important to see your physician. Then, your doctor can rule out more serious causes of your symptoms, including hypertension or a thyroid problem, and give treatment that can improve your power and high quality of life.