Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone in charge of regulating fertility, producing red blood cells, and distributing fat. The hormone is produced by the testicles and influences various processes in the body, including sperm production, sex drive, and sexual development.
Although women produce low levels of testosterone, low levels in men can result in reduced bone mass, erectile dysfunction, and weakened sex drive. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a normal range for testosterone is generally 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). Only a doctor can provide a low T diagnosis. Physicians typically diagnose low T when levels of the hormone drop below 300 ng/dL, but often men are alerted by the subtle, but sometimes dramatic effects of low testosterone.
1. Erectile Dysfunction
One of testosterone’s functions is to stimulate the sex drive in males. The hormone incites penile tissue to generate nitric oxide, which is the molecule responsible for activating the reactions that cause erections. Low testosterone can impact a man’s ability to have an erection before engaging in sex, as well as may cause spontaneous erections to occur.
Research regarding the efficacy of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) as a treatment for erectile dysfunction is inconclusive. However, the hormone is not the only factor that contributes to erectile issues. Other health problems, such as high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes may also contribute to erectile dysfunction.
2. Reduced Semen Production
Testosterone is also in charge of stimulating semen production. Semen is the fluid responsible for guiding sperm cells to eggs. Low semen production can suggest low testosterone and, if left untreated, can cause fertility issues.
3. Low Sex Drive
Men with low-T may often experience a reduced sex drive. Testosterone is a critical component of the male libido. Although a reduced sex drive is a symptom that commonly occurs with age, a drastic drop in the desire to have sex is common for individuals with low T.
4. Increased Body Fat
Someone with low-T may also experience an increase in body fat. Gynecomastia, a condition that causes large breasts to develop, is a particular sign that a man may have low testosterone. An imbalance of testosterone and estrogen is theorized as the cause of the condition.
5. Decreased Muscle Mass
Testosterone is partially responsible for building muscle. Therefore, someone with low T may experience substantially reduced muscle mass. Although the hormone affects muscle mass, research suggests that it does not impact muscle strength or function.
6. Reduced Testicle Size
Low levels of testosterone can help cause smaller testicles. The body needs testosterone for the development of both the penis and testicles. Low-T levels could, therefore, add to excessively small-sized penis or testicles compared to someone with normal levels. Low-T may also cause the scrotum to feel softer than normal.
7. Reduced Bone Mass
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone mass progressively becomes thinner. Although osteoporosis is usually connected to women, men with low T are susceptible to developing the condition as well. Individuals with osteoporosis are at an increased risk of breaking or fracturing bones.
8. Hair Loss
Hair loss is commonly experienced by men and women as a natural part of the aging process. Testosterone contributes to hair production, so a loss of facial or body hair could be a sign of low T.
Researchers from a study conducted in 2012 found that TRT supported some hair regrowth in women who were also receiving treatment for sex hormone deficiencies.
Having low testosterone may severely impact energy levels, resulting in persistent fatigue. Men with low T report feeling extremely tired – despite having a full night’s sleep – as well as having trouble becoming motivated to exercise.
10. Mood Swings
Testosterone contributes to several physical body processes, including the processes that affect mood and mental capability. Research has found a link between men with low T and mood changes, such as depression, inability to focus, and irritability.
When to See a Doctor
Symptoms of low testosterone are often subtle, and some only learn about the condition after routine exams. However, experts suggest that individuals who experience one or more of these symptoms should seek help from a doctor. More and more men are taking advantage of online support groups, as well as specialized hormone therapy clinics.
A doctor typically completes a physical examination to evaluate symptoms and may order additional testing to confirm whether any treatment is needed.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is the most common treatment for low T. After confirming the diagnosis, physicians generally write TRT prescriptions when an individual has multiple symptoms, and blood test results indicate that there is a hormone deficiency.
Prescriptions can be written for several different delivery methods, including:
- Dissolvable tablets
- Skin patches
- Surgical implants
Injections are one of the more commonly prescribed forms of TRT and are typically administered by a doctor. They require fewer doses than other prescription methods. Regardless of the delivery method used, symptoms typically begin to disappear within 4 to 6 weeks of beginning therapy.
Some over the counter treatments include natural supplements that can help raise hormone levels. These supplements work by targeting specific processes to increase testosterone or preventing the hormone from converting into estrogen. Some of the best over the counter supplements include vitamin D, Fenugreek, and ginger. However, it’s important to be aware of common supplements that have a negative impact on men.
Low T commonly occurs in men, especially as they age. When hormone levels drop too much, undesired symptoms can occur. Many treatments are available, but a physician needs to confirm a diagnosis before a treatment can be prescribed. It is important to be aware of any other underlying conditions that may contribute to the symptoms that an individual is experiencing. Identifying all causes of low T is crucial in effectively treating unwarranted symptoms.
Each person is unique and therefore they will respond to treatment differently. Routine lab tests every 6 to 12 months are important in ensuring that hormone levels do not only return to normal but also stay normal. Checkups help evaluate symptoms, identify root causes for those symptoms, and draft treatment plans to address those symptoms.