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Men's Health

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Irritable Male Syndrome: Fact or Fiction?

By Tony Rehagen
WebMD Feature

There’s a lot of information going around that says that as men age, they get moodier, more irritable, and easily frustrated -- kind of like a “male menopause.”

Some say this happens because their testosterone levels start to go down. But can a lack of one hormone really create a bunch of grumpy, older men?

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“It’s nonsense,” says Bradley Anawalt, MD, chief of medicine at the University of Washington. “Older men are irritable -- it’s almost never due to testosterone.”

The science doesn’t point to a single right answer. But some experts do see a link between low testosterone levels (or “low T”) and mood shifts in aging men.

What Doctors Know for Sure

Generally, men make less testosterone as they get older. Forty percent over age 45 have levels that doctors consider below the norm (<300 ng/dL). Problems with the testicles or the pituitary gland can cause it. It can also be linked to a number of ailments, like high blood pressure and diabetes. Many times, doctors can’t pinpoint the cause.

Some symptoms, like low sex drive, loss of bone density, and loss of muscle mass are linked to low testosterone.  But Abraham Morgentaler, MD, founder and director of Men’s Health Boston medical clinic, says he often sees other side effects in his patients. “Men with low testosterone find that their emotional reserves are lower,” he says. “They have a shorter fuse. In popular culture, people link male anger with high testosterone, but as a rule we see it more in men with low testosterone -- most commonly when levels are dropping. That’s when men get cranky.”

There’s some research that shows that men with low T even have hot flashes just like women do during menopause.

Menopause vs. Andropause

But other studies show that what’s going on inside a man’s body as he reaches late-middle age is far different than what happens to a woman. During menopause, the production of estrogen drops sharply. Men tend to lose testosterone gradually, about half a percent per year.

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