Testosterone is a hormone found in humans. Men have much higher levels of testosterone than women. Production increases during puberty and starts to decrease after age 30. For each year over age 30, the level of testosterone in men starts to slowly dip at a rate of around 1 percent per year. A decrease in testosterone level is a natural result of aging.
What does this natural hormonal decrease really mean? What symptoms or side effects accompany a loss of the male hormone? Testosterone helps maintain a number of important bodily functions in men, including:
- sex drive
- sperm production
- muscle mass/strength
- fat distribution
- bone density
- red blood cell production
Because testosterone affects so many functions, its decrease can bring about significant physical and emotional changes.
One of the biggest worries faced by men with declining testosterone levels is the chance that their sexual desire and performance will be affected. As men age, they can experience a number of symptoms related to sexual function that may be a result of lowered levels of this hormone. These include:
- reduced desire for sex
- fewer erections that happen spontaneously, such as during sleep
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is not commonly caused by insufficient testosterone production. In cases where ED accompanies lower testosterone production, hormone replacement therapy may help your ED.
Testosterone is the hormone most responsible for sex drives and high libidos in men. A decrease in testosterone can mean a decrease in libido, fewer spontaneous erections, and a slightly lower sperm count. None of these side effects should happen suddenly. If they do, there could be other issues at play.
A number of physical changes can happen to your body if you have low testosterone levels. Testosterone is sometimes referred to as the “male” hormone. It helps increase muscle mass, leads to body hair, and contributes to an overall masculine form. Decreases in testosterone can lead to physical changes including the following:
- increased body fat
- decreased strength/mass of muscles
- fragile bones
- decreased body hair
- swelling/tenderness in the breast tissue
- hot flashes
- increased fatigue
- effects on cholesterol metabolism
Despite that fact that it can cause lower energy levels, low testosterone can also cause insomnia and other changes in your sleep patterns. Unfortunately, testosterone replacement therapy may contribute to or cause sleep apnea. This is a serious problem that causes your breathing to stop and start repeatedly while asleep. It can greatly disrupt your sleep in the process.
On the other hand, changes in the body that occur as a result of sleep apnea can lead to low testosterone levels.
Even without the presence of sleep apnea there is a strong correlation between low testosterone and a decrease in the hours of sleep. It is unclear why it happens.
In addition to causing physical changes, having low levels of testosterone can affect you on an emotional level. The condition can lead to feelings of sadness or depression. It can also degrade your overall sense of well-being. Some people have trouble with memory and concentration and experience lowered motivation and self-confidence.
Testosterone is a hormone that affects emotional regulation. Depression has been linked to men with low testosterone. This could result from a combination of the irritability, decreased sex drive, and fatigue that can come with low testosterone.
While each of the symptoms above may be a result of a lowered testosterone level, they may also be normal side effects of aging. Other reasons that you might experience some of these symptoms include:
- a thyroid condition
- injury to testicles
- testicular cancer
- type 2 diabetes
- side effects of medications
- alcohol use
- genetic abnormalities that affect the testicles
- pituitary gland problems
To determine what’s causing these symptoms for you, schedule an appointment with your doctor and request a blood test. A blood test is the only sure way to determine your testosterone level. Harvard Medical School (HMS) recommends a goal of a testosterone level of 300–450 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter) for men over 65 years of age. This is the midpoint of the normal range for the age group.
Regardless of the reason you’re experiencing low testosterone, there are treatment options available to increase testosterone or reduce the side effects you’re experiencing. Treatment options include the following:
Testosterone supplementation is an option for men experiencing low testosterone. It can be delivered in several ways: injections into the muscle every few weeks; patches or gels applied to the skin; a patch that is applied inside the mouth; or pellets that are inserted under the skin of the buttocks. Those who have experienced or are at a high risk of prostate cancer should not use testosterone therapy.
Losing weight and being physically active
Exercising more and losing weight can help slow the decrease of testosterone your body is experiencing.
Erectile dysfunction medication
If you’re most concerning symptom from lower testosterone is erectile dysfunction, erectile dysfunction medications can help treat the symptom.
For those suffering from insomnia, sleeping medications can help patients get more sleep.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of low testosterone, call your doctor and make an appointment. A diagnosis can be made with a simple blood test, and there are a variety of treatment options available to you. Your doctor can also help you determine if there’s an underlying cause triggering your low testosterone.