DHEA stands for dehydroepiandrosterone. This is a hormone found in the adrenal glands, above the kidneys. DHEA helps to make other hormones, like testosterone in men and estrogen in women. Your natural DHEA levels are highest when you're a young adult. They get lower as you age. In your adrenal glands and liver, DHEA changes to DHEA-S (DHEA-sulfate).
The DHEA-S test is done to check whether your adrenal glands are working well. It measures the amount of DHEA-S in your bloodstream.
High DHEA-S Levels
In women, this can cause symptoms like:
- No menstrual periods
- A lot of body and facial hair
- Lots of acne
- Hair loss
- Fertility problems
- Other traits usually found in men, including a deep voice, lack of breasts, male pattern baldness, and a large Adam's apple
- More muscle
Too much DHEA may not be as noticeable in men. High levels of DHEA-S in children can cause boys and girls to get pubic or underarm hair early.
Low DHEA-S Levels
This is linked to aging and to conditions like:
- Trouble getting or keeping an erection
- Low sex drive
- Osteoporosis, or weakened bones
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
You don't have to do anything special before the test. But tell your doctor if you're taking a DHEA-S supplement or medications like antidiabetic drugs that have DHEA. Supplements labeled "athletic performance enhancer" also may contain DHEA. If you're a woman, your doctor may do the test a week before or after your period. That’s because menstruation affects your DHEA levels.
A lab worker will take a blood sample from your arm with a needle.
The normal range for DHEA-S depends on your age, sex, health, and even the way the lab measures the results. A normal level means your adrenal glands are working right.
A high level of DHEA-S could mean you might have:
- Adrenal cancer or tumors
- Cushing's disease, which can cause fat on the back of the neck and on the belly, full face, skin bruising, and excess hair growth
- Adrenal hyperplasia, a condition that makes your adrenal gland overactive
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes sex hormones to get out of balance and often leads to infertility
A low level of DHEA-S might mean:
- A damaged adrenal gland
- Addison’s disease, a rare condition that causes weak muscles, lack of energy, weight loss, and low blood pressure
- Hypopituitarism, a rare hormonal disease that can lead to tiredness, low sex drive, infertility, weight loss, and short height in children
This will depend on your specific condition or disease. Your doctor likely will order other tests for an exact diagnosis.