What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a male hormone called an androgen. And it contributes to bodily functions that include:

  • muscle strength
  • sex drive
  • bone density
  • body fat distribution
  • sperm production

Although testosterone is categorized as a male hormone, women also produce it, but in lower concentrations than men.

Low testosterone (low T) in men and women can cause a number of physical and emotional symptoms, including depression.

Low T 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 experience primary hypogonadism, which could be caused by:

  • cancer treatments
  • mumps
  • higher than normal levels of iron in the blood

Secondary hypogonadism occurs when your pituitary gland doesn’t receive signals to make more testosterone. Causes for this signaling failure could include:

  • normal aging
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • tuberculosis
  • obesity
  • use of opioid medications

Low T can lead to several changes in your physical and emotional life. The biggest difference might be your sexual desire and function. It’s not unusual for men with low T to experience a significant drop in sex drive. You might find erections are more difficult to achieve and maintain or you may experience infertility.

Testosterone also plays a role in bone and muscle strength. When your hormone levels drop, you are likely to lose bone and muscle mass, and you might gain weight. These changes can put you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Men of all ages can suffer from low T, but it’s more common in older adults.

Depression, anxiety, irritability, and other mood changes are common in men and women with low T. However, researchers aren’t sure what causes the correlation. Testosterone therapy can boost the mood of many people with low T, particularly older adults.

Is it low T or is it depression?

The shared symptoms of low T and depression can make diagnosis tricky. To complicate matters, depression, difficulty thinking, and anxiety are also normal signs of aging.

Symptoms that are common to both low T and depression include:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • sadness
  • low sex drive
  • memory problems
  • trouble concentrating
  • sleep problems

The physical symptoms of low testosterone and depression, however, tend to be different. People who have depression but have normal hormone levels generally do not experience breast swelling and decreased muscle mass and strength that are associated with low T.

The physical manifestations of depression are often centered around headaches and back pain.

If you or a loved one feels 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 experiencing androgen deficiency.

Men are not the only ones who may show a decline in mental health when their essential hormone levels drop. One studyfound that women who have low T often experience depression. Female low T is diagnosed and treated primarily in women experiencing perimenopause or are postmenopausal.

Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment option that helps restore normal testosterone levels. Synthetic testosterone is available in several different forms. 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 best for your lifestyle, level of health, and insurance coverage.

In some men, low T may affect self-confidence and physical well-being. Insomnia, memory problems, and trouble concentrating that may accompany low T may all be contributing factors.

Once treatment is established, the physical side of the equation may be solved, but the psychological symptoms sometimes remain. Luckily, there’s treatment for that too.

Breathing exercises and mindful meditation are often used for sleep problems and anxiety. Focusing on each breath helps you relax and may help you empty your mind of negative thoughts.

Journaling is a way for some people to organize their thoughts and feelings. Write down what’s on your mind at a set time every day, or whenever you feel like it. Sometimes just getting your thoughts on paper helps you feel better.

Low T affects everyone differently. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be in order if you’re having trouble dealing with psychological symptoms of low T. A therapist can help you develop coping techniques.

Also, being patient and understanding can be a great way to show support to a friend, family member, or partner dealing with low T.