The Truth About Low Testosterone

From the WebMD Archives

Commercials for testosterone treatment make it all look so easy: "Are you feeling a weird drop in your sex drive? Maybe a little tired, a bit out of sorts, not-quite-yourself? Don’t worry -- just get your hands on some testosterone!"

Well, not so fast.

First, talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. It’s easy to do a quick Internet search for “low sex drive” or “low testosterone” and find a treasure trove of articles and people who are 100% sure they have the answer for you. But just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s accurate or complete. Even if it is, it still may not be what your body needs.

Many conditions have the same symptoms as low testosterone, says Ronald S. Swerdloff, MD, chief of the Division of Endocrinology & Metabolism at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. That’s why it’s crucial to tell your doctor everything that’s happening to you.

“There are a few obvious symptoms of low testosterone, like a decrease in libido, and a decrease in erectile function, but there are many symptoms to consider. Explaining what you’re going through is always a good idea. There’s nothing bad in talking to your doctor about what’s bothering you,” he says.

Who Should Get Testosterone Therapy?

Low testosterone is seen as a normal part of getting older. After age 30, men’s levels drop by about 1% each year. Testosterone replacement therapy can help restore them. It’s been shown to improve not just libido and your ability to have sex, but also bone density, muscle mass, mood, thinking skills, and heart disease. Your doctor may suggest it if you’ve been diagnosed with testosterone deficiency and have erectile dysfunction or a drop in your libido.

But if you want to have kids, he probably won’t suggest the treatment. It could lead to infertility.

Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved prescription testosterone products for men whose low T levels are caused by specific medical conditions. In other words, you can’t get them just because you’re getting older.

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Risks

These depend on the type of testosterone therapy you receive. Options include gels, patches, shots, implants, and a version you take by mouth. All of them come with their own risks. Some of these include:

There’s help for low testosterone, but it’s not as clear-cut as treating, say, a headache. This has caused some controversy in the medical worlds.

“Regulatory agencies have expressed concern that testosterone treatments were being given without documentation,” Swerdloff says. “They’re concerned that the marketing of medications like testosterone directly to the public may result in more people than necessary taking it, based on the attractiveness of the marketing. I want to emphasize that communication with your physician is a good thing. Your physician has the obligation to take the right course of action.”

That's why it's so important to talk to your doctor. Make a list of all of your symptoms before the appointment.

Once he understands what’s going on with you, he’ll tell you your options and help you decide on the best course of action.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 13, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Bassil, N. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, published online June 2009.

Osterberg, E. Indian Journal of Urology, published online Jan-March 2014.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Drugs.”

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: “Guideline Summary.”

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