Testosterone is a hormone that’s sometimes also called an androgen. Androgens, including testosterone, are also known as male hormones. Testosterone contributes to a number of bodily functions, such as
- muscle strength
- sex drive
- bone density
- body fat distribution
Testosterone in men also aids sperm production. Although testosterone is categorized as a male hormone, women also produce testosterone. Females, however, have lower concentrations of the hormone than men. Low testosterone in men and women can cause a number of physical and emotional symptoms, including depression.
Low testosterone is known as hypogonadism. Primary hypogonadism is a problem with your testicles, the organs that produce testosterone. Men who have had a testicular injury might suffer from primary hypogonadism. Causes of secondary hypogonadism include:
- cancer treatments
- higher than normal levels of iron in the blood
Secondary hypogonadism occurs when your pituitary gland doesn’t receive signals to make more testosterone. This signaling failure could be the result of:
- normal aging
- use of opiate medications
Low testosterone (low T) can lead to several changes in your physical and emotional life. The most marked difference might be your sexual desire and function. It’s not unusual for men with low T to suffer from a significant drop in sex drive. You might find erections are more difficult to achieve and maintain. Some men with hypogonadism experience infertility. Testosterone plays a role in bone and muscle strength as well. When your hormone levels drop, you are likely to lose bone and muscle mass, and you might gain weight as well. These changes can put you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Depression, anxiety, irritability, and other mood changes are common in men and women with low T. According to a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Endocrinology, scientists are not sure why a dip in testosterone levels causes depression, but there does appear to be a correlation between the two. Testosterone therapy can boost the mood of many low T patients, particularly in the elderly.
Men of all ages can suffer from low testosterone, but it’s more common in older adults. Depression, cognitive difficulties, and anxiety can also be normal signs of aging. The common symptoms can make diagnosing medical problems tricky. If you or a loved one feel blue, irritable, or simply not yourself, make an appointment with your doctor. A physical exam and blood work can help determine if your testosterone levels are normal or if you’re suffering from androgen deficiency.
Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment option that helps restore normal testosterone levels in men. Synthetic testosterone is available in several different formats. The more common choices include injections, patches that you wear on your skin, and a topical gel that your body absorbs through the skin. Your doctor can help you decide which delivery method is most appropriate for your lifestyle, level of health, and insurance coverage.
Men are not the only ones who show a decline in mental health when their essential hormone levels drop. Women can suffer from depression that’s brought on by low testosterone too. A 2002 issue of the journal Maturitas found that women who have low T are often depressed, have a low sex drive, and experience pain during sexual intercourse. Female low T is diagnosed and treated primarily in peri- and post-menopausal women.
Low testosterone can wreak havoc on a man’s self-confidence as well as his physical wellbeing. Once treatment is established, the physical side of the equation may be solved, but the emotions that are stirred up with a perceived loss of manliness may linger. You can offer support to a friend, family member, or partner dealing with low T in the form of patience and understanding. Counseling may be in order if depression persists.