Am I just grumpy, or is it something else?

The stereotype of the grumpy old man could have its roots in a condition known as irritable male syndrome. It’s clinically referred to as andropause, or male menopause. Like female menopause, andropause includes physical and emotional changes that also seem dependent on changes in hormone levels.

Irritable male syndrome can have a big impact on your relationships. To know whether you’re experiencing irritable male syndrome, and how you might treat it and improve your relationships, it’s important to recognize some of the more obvious symptoms.

As the name suggests, irritable male syndrome’s leading symptom is irritability. Depression and lower self-confidence can also be symptoms. It can lead to difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and reduced energy. You may have a harder time losing weight and recovering after exercise. Hormonal changes in men can also cause a lower sex drive or erectile dysfunction.

All of these symptoms can affect how you interact with your partner, often not in a positive way. Moodiness and a change in libido can interfere with what was once a loving relationship. Other symptoms, like poor sleep, can affect many aspects of your overall health. Your physical health and mood may worsen over time.

Recognizing these symptoms is an important step in addressing them. Getting the support of your partner in managing changes in mood, energy, and other symptoms is the best approach.

Andropause is most directly caused by a decrease in testosterone. Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone that’s key to male reproductive development. It also factors in other male characteristics, such as muscle mass and body hair. Levels of testosterone tend to decline gradually in men starting in their 30s.

Testosterone is associated with confidence, fitness, energy, and sex drive — all characteristics that may contribute to healthy relationships. So lower testosterone levels can affect some of the key areas that may influence how you relate to your partner.

Having your testosterone checked is a good first step toward diagnosing any mood shifts that may be due to age-related hormone changes. It can be done as part of a regular blood test that checks your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and other markers. You may have to ask your doctor to include a check for testosterone level on the order for blood work. Lab technicians only test for what’s included in the order.

The level of testosterone in your blood can let your doctor learn your hormonal situation and provide possible clues to changes in your mood. Your doctor may be able to tell you more based on a physical examination and a conversation about your symptoms.

Other underlying conditions could also be responsible for your symptoms. Diabetes, for instance, may be responsible for erectile dysfunction. A nighttime breathing disorder called obstructive sleep apnea may be sapping your energy and ability to focus.

You should be honest with your partner about all of your symptoms, including ones like erectile dysfunction. Being open with your partner can help them understand what you’re experiencing.

A mental health professional may also be helpful in identifying problems in your relationship. Again, the key is to be honest about your symptoms and concerns.

If your irritable male syndrome is caused by a decrease in testosterone levels, one of the main treatment options is testosterone replacement therapy. Regular injections of a synthetic version of the hormone can often help restore vitality and other characteristics affected by declining hormone levels.

Learn more: Hormone replacement therapy for men »

Like any treatment, this therapy has potential side effects. There is some concern that it may affect heart health. Some people find they become too aggressive and moody. If you work with your doctor and report any side effects or negative changes in mood, most problems can be managed or avoided.

It’s also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Managing your weight can help with:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • sleep
  • energy levels

Eating a healthy diet and avoiding foods that are high in fat and added sugars can benefit anyone. Limit alcohol consumption and exercise all or most days of the week for at least 30 to 40 minutes.

Mental health treatment is important if your relationship is affected by irritable male syndrome. It may even help with unwanted changes in your personality. Therapy can show you how to work through your emotions in a positive way and communicate better with your partner. Couples counseling is usually more successful when both members of the couple participate fully.

Managing irritable male syndrome starts with recognizing symptoms, getting diagnosed, and following through with treatment. Here are some tips to help maintain a healthy relationship with your partner:

  • Acknowledge changes in the way you respond to situations.
  • Learn to recognize changes in your mood and take steps to relax or defuse the situation.
  • Listen calmly as your partner describes mood or personality changes.
  • Consider a testosterone level test and therapy if it’s appropriate. Don’t give up on therapy if you and your partner aren’t seeing immediate results.
  • Learn stress-busting and relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises designed to calm you down.
  • Get more exercise. The “feel good” endorphins released by physical activity can help overcome depression symptoms and other negative feelings.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean-style eating plan, that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and some low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods and beverages with added sugars.
  • Give counseling a try. If it makes it easier, approach it with the idea that you’re getting help in dealing with stress.
  • If you start counseling, stick with it. Counseling, including couples counseling, often requires months to make a noticeable difference.
  • Always remember the things that first attracted you to your partner, and remember how good those things made you feel.

The combination of testosterone replacement therapy, a healthier lifestyle, and counseling could help you overcome irritable male syndrome and improve your relationship. Being honest with your doctor and your partner about your symptoms can help you receive the help you need.