It’s a fact of life that certain physical attributes decline with age, like near-distance eyesight, hearing and balance. For men, this list includes the hormone testosterone. You can thank waning testosterone for the gradual decrease in energy, muscle mass and sex drive that many men experience as they grow older. Falling levels of testosterone are a normal part of aging, and the fact that you have less testosterone at 50 than you do at 25 doesn’t mean you can’t still be vibrant, happy and sexually engaged.
But if the decreased energy turns to exhaustion, the drop in sex drive begins interfering with life or your mood is adversely affected—leaving you depressed and lethargic—it may be an indication your testosterone is lower than normal.
Symptoms of low testosterone
Though testosterone levels are easy to check with a simple blood test, low testosterone isn’t always diagnosed—mostly because its symptoms are similar to other conditions. If you suspect low testosterone, the first step is to talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling, noting symptoms such as:
- Lack of interest in sex, may be accompanied by erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction alone is not necessarily an indicator of low testosterone)
- Fatigue, chronic exhaustion and a general sense of reduced energy
- Depressed mood and/or feelings of anxiety
- Reduced muscle mass and/or weight gain
Causes of low testosterone
Your testosterone levels decrease a little each year, starting in your forties. Certain conditions can cause your testosterone to decline more quickly. For example, if you have type 2 diabetes, you are twice as likely to suffer from low testosterone as a man without diabetes. According to Harvard Health, other conditions that can exacerbate the loss of testosterone include:
- Chronic stress
- Excessive drinking/alcoholism
- Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, or drugs used to treat prostate cancer that contain hormones
- Other illnesses or injuries
Treatment for low testosterone
Low testosterone doesn’t necessarily require treatment, and there are risks associated with testosterone-replacement therapy, including cardiovascular risks and the increased risk of prostate cancer.
In fact, there is debate among medical professionals about when testosterone therapy is appropriate, and the effectiveness of treatments for low testosterone is an active area of research. The Endocrine Society recently updated its guidelines, stating, “New scientific evidence has strengthened the case for reserving testosterone therapy for well-documented cases of hypogonadism, a condition where the body does not produce enough testosterone.”
For men who are good candidates for testosterone replacement, treatments include:
- Topical gels
- 24-hour skin patches
- Pellets implanted under the skin
- Regular injections
- Tablets that attach to the gum or cheek
If you find that your symptoms are greatly interfering with your quality of life, definitely talk to your doctor. There may be other related conditions your doctor can help you get under control, which can improve your overall health.