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Men's Health (cont.)

Low Testosterone in Men

Testosterone is a steroid hormone produced in the testicles of men and the ovaries of women, and in small amounts in the adrenal glands. The hormone has many functions in men; development of sexual maturity characteristics such as voice, pubic hair, muscle growth, bone growth, and affects sexual function and sexual desire. The hormone is produced as part of a complicated feedback endocrine system involving the brain via the hypothalamus and pituitary gland secretions (hormones such as gonadotrophin). In adult males, this results in a variable normal range of testosterone in the blood of about 270–1070 ng/dl (normal ranges depend on the type of test used to detect testosterone), and vary in this range daily. Low testosterone is considered to be detectable testosterone levels in males that are below the low levels considered normal in men. For example, if the normal testosterone levels for a test are between a normal low of 270 and an upper normal level of 1070 ng/dl, then values below 270 ng/dl would indicate low testosterone levels in the man. Low testosterone may result in decreased libido, weak or no erections, low or lower sperm counts, and increased breast size (gynecomastia).

Picture of male on the left with no gynecomastia and the male on the right with gynecomastia

Low testosterone levels (also termed hypogonadism) may result from one or more causes as follows:

  • Testicular problems (undescended testicles, testicular injuries)
  • Hypothalamus problems (brain tumors, interference of endocrine system by medications)
  • Pituitary problems (brain tumors, interference of endocrine system by medications)
  • Infection (mumps, orchitis, HIV)
  • Stress (mental, physical)
  • Genetic problems
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medications
  • Aging (normal aging results in decreasing testosterone levels in men)

Medication is available to men to restore testosterone levels. It is available in pills, gels, patches, injections, and gum tablets. Any testosterone medication should be prescribed by a doctor and usually only after testing to determine that low testosterone is present. In general, low testosterone can be a symptom of an underlying problem that if diagnosed and treated, may resolve the low testosterone levels. Testosterone medications are not risk-free; interference with the normal feedback endocrine system that may even further lower testosterone and sperm levels, stimulate prostate cell growth (prostatic hyperplasia), exacerbate sleep apnea, enlarge breasts in men, cause acne and may even stimulate prostatic cancer cells to grow.

Illustration of the endocrine system

Illustration of the Endocrine System

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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