"After age 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in testosterone," states David Samadi, MD, chairman of the urology department at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Though testosterone levels never reach zero (as estrogen levels do in women during menopause), low testosterone levels men to experience symptoms such as fatigue, low libido, and loss of muscle mass.
While reduced testosterone is more common in older men, it may occur in younger men as well. Fortunately, all the causes of low testosterone in young guys are treatable, so in the event that you experience these symptoms at any given age, there's no reason to dismiss it.
Causes of Low Testosterone in Younger Men
For younger guys, a drop in testosterone levels may be caused by some illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, chronic liver or liver disease, COPD or other lung disease, or adrenal gland issues, according to Dr. Samadi.
Genetic causes of low testosterone in males include the ailments Klinefelter syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Myotonic dystrophy. Another disorder which could cause low testosterone is hemochromatosis, making the body store too much iron.
"Low testosterone can also result when something happens, like trauma or steroid use, that prevents the testes from making the hormone," says Bruce Gilbert, MD, PhD, an adjunct clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of reproductive and reproductive medicine at the Smith Institute for Urology of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.
Additional causes of low testosterone in males younger than 50 include pituitary gland tumors, HIV infection, and radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer.
Doctors categorize causes of low testosterone as primary or secondary.
"Primary hypogonadism stems from a problem in the testicles," Samadi says. "This could be from a developmental issue, injury to the testicles, or radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
Can It Be Low Testosterone?
Irrespective of the cause, low testosterone symptoms are the same.
"Symptoms include low libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, decreased mental acuity, and moodiness," Dr. Gilbert states.
"Younger men with low testosterone usually come to me and say, ‘I can't work out like I used to, and I've lost interest in sex.’ ”
Your doctor can diagnose low testosterone with a blood test.
If your blood test reveals low testosterone (usually defined as a level lower than 300 ng/dL), the doctor may treat you or refer you to a specialist, such as an urologist or endocrinologist.
Not everyone with low testosterone needs treatment. "When it comes to treating low testosterone in older guys, we generally reserve treatment for people who have symptoms, such as fatigue and low libido," Gilbert says.
In men who don't make the hormone in their testes because of a condition such as Klinefelter syndrome, or those who have lost their testes because of cancer, the only option is testosterone replacement therapy.
In these circumstances,"treatments are usually used only in the short term, and when a physician has close monitoring and understanding of the individual," Gilbert says.
An important consideration for younger men before getting treatment is fertility. "You do not wish to offer supplemental testosterone to guys who are interested in being fertile since it can turn off sperm production," Gilbert says.
Once a young man goes off testosterone supplementation, there's a chance his sperm count will never return to what it was before he started. "Hence, men of reproductive age should think about alternatives which may improve their testosterone as well as preserve their sperm production," he states. 1 such choice is a category of drugs known as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs).
Other remedies for low testosterone include weight loss and other lifestyle modifications, like eating healthy and raising exercise.
The bottom line, though, is that if you have low testosterone symptoms, it is very important to see your physician. Then, your doctor can rule out more serious causes of your symptoms, including hypertension or a thyroid problem, and give treatment that can improve your energy and high quality of life.