Decreasing testosterone levels is a normal phenomenon in men as they age. Close to one-third of all men over the age of 75 have lower-than-normal testosterone levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. 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 may also 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
For adult men, symptoms of low testosterone levels (hypogonadism) include:
- erectile dysfunction
- 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 treatment.
At your doctor’s appointment, you can expect to undergo a physical exam to check your symptoms. You will also likely have blood drawn 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 7:00 and 10:00 a.m.
A blood test for testosterone can tell your doctor how much free testosterone is circulating in your blood. It can also show the total amount of the hormone in your body. Studies indicate that measuring free testosterone is a better way to accurately diagnose hypogonadism.
Many factors can affect total testosterone levels. High or low levels do not necessarily indicate a clinical problem.
Many products are available for testing your hormone levels at home before seeing your doctor. All of these test your saliva rather than your blood, so you can collect your sample at home. How you collect your saliva and how many samples you take may vary depending on the product. All home test kits require you to mail your collections to a lab for testing. You may get the results within a few days or a few weeks.
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. Testing saliva is easier and less invasive than drawing blood, so researchers are interested in whether this method is reliable. The results and expert opinions are mixed. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists still recommends using blood tests for measuring levels of sex hormones such as testosterone. This is because of the variability they see in saliva testing results.
On the other hand, some studies and reviews conclude that saliva testing is preferable because it’s less stressful for the patient. One review of the research concluded that saliva is as reliable as other body fluids (tears, urine, and sweat), 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. Testosterone in saliva samples can also be affected by how they’re collected and stored.
If you decide 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, see your doctor.
If your results come back as lower than normal, make an appointment to see your doctor before trying any home remedies. A variety of testosterone supplements on the market carry risks, and they can cause side effects such as:
- 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 your treatment options.