This Week - T : Testosterone Deficiency
Some men develop depression, loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction and other physical and emotional symptoms when they reach their late 40s to early 50s.
Other symptoms common in men this age are:
- mood swings and irritability
- loss of muscle mass and reduced ability to exercise
- fat redistribution, such as developing a large belly or man boobs (gynaecomastia)
- a general lack of enthusiasm or energy
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or increased tiredness
- poor concentration and short-term memory
These symptoms can interfere with everyday life and happiness, so it's important to find the underlying cause and work out what can be done to resolve it.
Is there such a thing as a 'male menopause'?
The male menopause (sometimes called the andropause) is an unhelpful term sometimes used in the media to explain the above symptoms.
This label is misleading because it suggests the symptoms are the result of a sudden drop in testosterone in middle age, similar to what occurs in the female menopause. This isn't true. Although testosterone levels fall as men age, the decline is steady – less than 2% a year from around the age of 30-40 – and this is unlikely to cause any problems in itself.
A testosterone deficiency that develops later in life (also known as late-onset hypogonadism) can sometimes be responsible for these symptoms, but in many cases the symptoms are nothing to do with hormones.
Personal or lifestyle issues
Lifestyle factors or psychological problems are often responsible for many of the symptoms described above.
For example, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and mood swings may be the result of either:
There are also physical causes of erectile dysfunction, such as changes in the blood vessels, which may happen alongside any psychological cause.
Read about the causes of erectile dysfunction.
Psychological problems are typically brought on by work or relationship issues, divorce, money problems or worrying about ageing parents.
A midlife crisis can also be responsible. This can happen when men think they've reached life's halfway stage. Anxieties over what they've accomplished so far, either in their job or personal life, can lead to a period of depression.
Read more about the male midlife crisis.
Other possible causes of the above symptoms include:
- lack of sleep
- poor diet
- lack of exercise
- drinking too much alcohol
- low self-esteem
In some cases, where lifestyle or psychological problems don't seem to be responsible, the symptoms of the male menopause may be the result of hypogonadism, where the testes produce few or no hormones.
Hypogonadism is sometimes present from birth, which can cause symptoms like delayed puberty and small testes.
Hypogonadism can also occasionally develop later in life, particularly in men who are obese or have type 2 diabetes. This is known as late-onset hypogonadism and it can cause the male menopause symptoms mentioned above. However, this is an uncommon and specific medical condition that isn't a normal part of ageing.
A diagnosis of late-onset hypogonadism can usually be made based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests used to measure your testosterone levels.
What to do
If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, see your GP. They'll ask about your work and personal life, to see if your symptoms may be caused by a mental health issue, such as stress or anxiety.
If stress or anxiety are affecting you, you may benefit from medication or a talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Exercise and relaxation can also help. Read about:
Do I need HRT?
Your GP may also order a blood test to measure your testosterone levels. If the results suggest you have a testosterone deficiency, you may be referred to an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormone problems).
If the specialist confirms this diagnosis, you may be offered testosterone replacement to correct the hormone deficiency, which should relieve your symptoms. This treatment may be either: