What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a sex hormone produced in males in the testes and in females in the ovaries. It’s the hormone responsible for male secondary sex characteristics and sex drive. In both sexes, testosterone plays a role in maintaining bone and muscle function. The levels are significantly lower in women and children than in men. Its levels also decline with advancing age.
Since the pituitary gland is the “master” gland and regulates all other glands and hormones, it can directly affect hormone levels, including testosterone. During puberty, testosterone levels increase in boys and cause the voice to deepen, pubic hair to appear and muscle mass to increase. It also allows for sperm formation in the testes.
Why Test for it?
Testosterone hormone level testing would likely be indicated in men if they are having trouble fathering a child, obtaining or keeping an erection, experiencing a low sex drive, or are depressed and fatigued without explanation. Higher than normal testosterone levels in boys would be suspect if signs of puberty are occurring at an earlier than normal age or male secondary symptoms are appearing in females.
Why It’s Helpful to Know Your Testosterone Levels
Low testosterone levels would be the most common reason in men and women for a low sex drive. High testosterone levels in men could be indicative of a tumor in the testes or prostate gland. In women, testosterone levels can be affected by abnormalities of the ovaries. Abnormalities or growths in the pituitary gland may also cause an increase in testosterone in either sex or effect bone density, increasing the chances of fractures.
Symptoms to Know
Low sex drive is the most common sign of low testosterone in both sexes. A doctor may want to test for levels of this hormone, along with other hormones if a woman is experiencing irregular periods, having difficulty conceiving, or is exhibiting excessive body or facial hair. Low testosterone levels can also be sign of illegal anabolic steroid use, be a side effect of obesity or a sign of pituitary or hypothalmus inflammation. Excessive amounts of testosterone can cause agitation and aggression.
Hormone levels can be quite sensitive and dependent on other glands and hormones. However, once identified, the levels are relatively easy to regulate with medication in pill or patch form.
Other Interesting Testosterone Facts
Both liver disease and alcoholism in males can decrease testosterone levels. Androgens and steroid drugs can also decrease testosterone levels.
Many men receive androgens for prostate cancer, so many men with advanced prostate cancer receive these drugs will have lower testosterone levels.
Drugs such as anticonvulsants, barbiturates, and clomiphene can cause testosterone levels to rise. Women taking estrogen therapy may have increased testosterone levels.
Types of Testosterone Tests
There are many testosterone tests, but for general screening the following are recommended:
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