Low Testosterone Levels – What Does it Mean and What Can Be Done?

In this article we’ll look at:

  • Normal testosterone levels
  • What causes low testosterone levels
  • The symptoms of low testosterone levels
  • Women’s low testosterone levels
  • There are links to low testosterone therapy and more on women and testosterone.

Testosterone is a sex hormone mainly associated with men as it creates and maintains masculine features, although women produce a little testosterone as well.

What are the normal levels of testosterone?

In men the normal level of testosterone is between 300–1,000 ng/dL, but that can vary between laboratories.

The level will fluctuate over the day (highest in the morning) and over a lifetime – highest during puberty and adolescence, and reducing with increasing age.

What causes low testosterone levels?

There are a number of things that can make testosterone levels drop other than age and it’s something that men worry about a lot.

  • Stress – work, home or personal health stress will reduce testosterone levels.
  • Pituitary tumour – the pituitary gland is in the brain and produces Lutenising Hormone (LH) which causes the testicles to make and release testosterone.  If a tumour is pressing on the cells that make LH then they will be unable to do their job and testosterone is therefore not produced.
  • Some drugs – prescribed and recreational.
  • Mumps after puberty if the testicles are affected.
  • Obesity.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Anorexia nervosa.
  • Some genetic/congenital conditions.
  • Double orchidectomy (surgical removal of both testicles).

The doctor will take a series of blood tests to establish whether you have low testosterone levels.

The symptoms of low testosterone.

Testosterone levels are important for maintaining masculinity – looking and feeling like a man. The symptoms of low testosterone usually appear gradually over time.

These symptoms include:

  • Reduce beard growth
  • Reduced muscle mass and difficulty gaining muscle
  • A bone scan may show thinner bones
  • Reduced body hair
  • Smooth, dry skin
  • Increased body fat/gynaecomastia (breast development)
  • Fatigue/loss of energy and vitality
  • Mental changes such as depression or poor concentration
  • Reduced ability to have spontaneous erections or erections during love making (erectile dysfunction/ED).

These symptoms are a worry to many men but because the causes of low testosterone are varied and not always permanent, it’s important to talk to your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and therefore the right treatment.  Low testosterone therapy is discussed here.

Low testosterone levels in women.

As mentioned earlier, testosterone is also present in small amounts in women (just as men have a small amount of the female hormone oestrogen).  Scientists are unsure about the role it plays, but research is looking at the its role in sex drive in women as well as men.

Women’s testosterone level is about 10% of men’s although high levels are often seen in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  This high level will give the same characteristics in women as it does in men: coarsening and oiliness of the skin, more body hair and male pattern hair loss.

However women often report a greater sense of wellbeing and improved sex drive when they have improved testosterone levels – ie not too high and not too low.

Author Elspeth Raisbeck

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