Testosterone is a male steroid hormone that does a lot more for men than just promote a healthy sex drive. The hormone affects several other factors in your health, including body fat, muscle mass, bone density, red blood cell count, and mood.
Normal testosterone levels are between 300 and 1,000 ng/dL. If a blood test shows that your levels are far below the norm, your doctor may suggest testosterone injections. These are a form treatment called testosterone replacement therapy.
Testosterone injections are most often given by your doctor. The injection site is typically in the gluteal muscles in the buttocks. However, your doctor may allow you to self-administer the injections. In that case, the injection site would be in your thigh muscles.
Men naturally start losing some of their testosterone when they hit their 30s or 40s. A more rapid decline in testosterone levels may indicate a problem called low testosterone (low T). Common symptoms of low T include:
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- changes in sex drive
- decreased sperm count
- depression or anxiety
- weight gain
- hot flashes
Some men may also have changes in the size of their penis and testicles. Others may have breast swelling.
Some men may want to diagnose themselves with low T. The problem with self-diagnosis is that many of the symptoms of low T are normal parts of aging, so using them for diagnosis isn’t reliable. A doctor-ordered testosterone level test is the only way to find out if your testosterone levels are too low.
When you see your doctor, they will take a thorough health history and do a physical exam. In addition to a blood test to measure your testosterone levels, you’ll also likely have a test that measures your red blood cell count. Testosterone injections can increase your red blood cell count, so this test is done to make sure you aren’t at risk of a dangerous increase in these cells.
If your exam and tests reveal that you have low T, your doctor may suggest testosterone injections.
The purpose of testosterone injections is to help regulate male hormone levels to help address problems related to low T. For men with low T, the benefits of these injections can include:
- an increased sex drive
- improved symptoms of ED
- more energy
- improved mood
- an increased sperm count
Fat and muscle
Men generally have less body fat than women. This is partly related to testosterone, which regulates fat distribution and muscle maintenance in your body. With low T, you’ll likely notice an increase in body fat, especially around your midsection.
Your hormones also help regulate muscle growth. So, with low T, you may feel like you’re losing muscle size or strength. However, this only occurs if your low T is prolonged and severe.
Testosterone shots can help regulate fat distribution, but you shouldn’t expect significant weight changes from hormone therapy alone. As for muscle maintenance, testosterone therapy has been found to help increase muscle mass, but not strength.
Low sperm count is a common side effect of low T. This problem can make it difficult if you and your partner are trying to get pregnant. However, if low T is to blame for problems with conception, don’t count on testosterone injections to help. Testosterone therapy can itself lead to reduced sperm counts, especially at high doses.
According to GoodRx.com, the cost of 1 mL (200 mg/mL) of Depo-Testosterone is about $30. The same amount of testosterone cypionate, the generic version of that drug, runs about $12–$26. The Depo-Testosterone label states that shots should be given every two to four weeks. Considering that dosage varies by patient, the cost could run anywhere from less than $24 per month to more than $120 per month.
These estimates only cover the drug itself, and not all possible costs of treatment. For instance, if you receive the injections from your doctor, there’s a cost for the office visits. This is in addition to the cost of office visits for monitoring, as your doctor will likely monitor your condition carefully to check for side effects and to make sure the injections are working properly. If you give yourself the injections, you may also need to buy needles and syringes.
Testosterone therapy doesn’t cure the cause of low T, it just raises testosterone levels up to a normal range. Therefore, injections could be a lifelong treatment if you continue to need them.
Some insurance companies cover portions of the costs, but you’ll want to check your coverage in advance. If you have questions about the costs, talk to your doctor.
Testosterone shots can help many men with low T. Still, this doesn’t mean that these powerful injections are safe for all men. Be sure to tell your doctor about all health conditions you have before starting testosterone therapy.
You will likely need extra monitoring from your doctor if you have heart disease, sleep apnea, or a high red blood cell count. And you should not use testosterone injections at all if you have breast cancer or prostate cancer.
Testosterone shots may also increase your risk of certain health problems, such as:
- liver problems
- heart problems, including heart attack and stroke
- blood clots
- worsening of pre-existing prostate tumors or benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate)
Testosterone injections can be helpful, but only if you actually have low T. If you’re wondering if these injections might be right for you, talk to your doctor. They can test you for low T. If they diagnose you, you can discuss whether these injections would be a good choice for you.
If you don’t end up having low T but still feel like your hormone levels might be off, keep in mind that good nutrition, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking could help you feel better. If those don’t help, be sure to talk to your doctor.