Decreasing testosterone levels is a normal phenomenon in men as they age. Close to a third of all men over the age of 75 have lower-than-normal testosterone levels. However, low testosterone levels can occur in men of any age. An underlying health problem such as obesity, a pituitary gland disorder, or an injury can reduce testosterone levels. Cancer treatments also may be a cause.
You may be tempted to test your testosterone levels using one of the home testosterone testing products you’ve seen advertised. Before you try a test kit, make sure you understand:
- how it works
- how reliable it is
- what information it will give you
- what to do with your results
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
For adult men, symptoms of having low testosterone levels—a condition called hypogonadism—include:
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- lowered sex drive
- decreased muscle mass
- decreased growth of body hair
- hot flashes
- trouble concentrating
See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms and you suspect that you may have decreased testosterone. Although low testosterone is often a normal consequence of aging, you could have a serious underlying condition that needs to be treated.
Diagnosing Low Testosterone
At your doctor appointment, you can expect to undergo a physical exam to check your symptoms. You will also likely have blood drawn in order to test your hormone levels. Testosterone levels vary throughout the day and are highest in the morning. For this reason, your doctor will want to take a sample of your blood between 7 and 10 a.m.
A blood test for testosterone can tell your doctor how much free testosterone is circulating in your blood. It can also indicate the total amount of the hormone in your body. Studies indicate that measuring free testosterone is a better way to accurately diagnose hypogonadism.
A number of factors can impact total testosterone levels. High or low levels do not necessarily indicate a clinical problem.
Home Test Kits
A number of products are available for testing your hormone levels at home before seeing your doctor. All test your saliva rather than your blood, so that you can do collection at home. How you collect your saliva and how many samples you take may vary depending on the product. All require you to mail your collections to a lab for testing. You may get the results within a few days or a few weeks.
Accuracy and Reliability of Saliva Testing
Before you rely on the results of a testosterone home test kit, you should be aware of the accuracy of salivary testing versus blood testing. Because testing saliva is easier and less invasive than drawing blood, researchers have investigated whether this method could be used instead of a blood test. The results and expert opinions are mixed. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, for instance, recommends using blood tests for measuring levels of sex hormones like testosterone. This is because of the variability they see in saliva testing results.
On the other hand, some studies and reviews have concluded that saliva testing for hormone levels is both reliable and preferable because it’s less stressful for the patient. One review of the research concluded that saliva hormone testing is as reliable as blood testing, and in some cases even better.
The authors of this review point out that there hasn’t been enough analysis of commercial home testing kits. Whether they deliver accurate, reliable, and unvarying results hasn’t been confirmed. They also warn that testosterone in saliva samples can be affected by how they’re collected and stored.
What Do You Do with the Results?
If you have decided to measure your testosterone levels with a home kit, you should be prepared to take any necessary next steps. The laboratory results should come with an explanation of your measured testosterone level. If your level is considered normal but you still have symptoms that concern you, a visit to your doctor is in order.
You should make an appointment to see your doctor before trying any home remedies if your results came back as lower than normal. A variety of testosterone supplements on the market carry risks, and can cause side effects like:
- sleep apnea
- an increased risk of heart disease
- prostate growth
- limited sperm production
Low testosterone can sometimes be the sign of a serious underlying medical condition. This is yet another good reason to see your doctor if your levels are low.
Having low testosterone levels may just be a normal part of your aging process. Alternately, you might have a condition that’s causing your levels to drop. In either case, the best solution is to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to learn about any necessary treatment options.