What Is a DHEA Test?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 08, 2024
2 min read

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. 

The DHEA-S blood test is done to check whether your adrenal glands are working well. It measures the amount of DHEA-S in your bloodstream. 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).

This blood test is often done for women who seem to have too many male hormones. 

In women, this can cause symptoms like:

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.

This is linked to aging and to conditions like:

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:

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.