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Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men, and it plays an important role in the male body. The development of the male reproductive organs, the development of muscle mass, bone mass and hair growth, prevention of osteoporosis, promotion of health, and well-being of men are all dependent on testosterone.
Testosterone levels typically peak during adolescence and early adulthood, before gradually declining with age. This typically happens from the age of 30 onwards. For older men, a decline in testosterone is a normal effect of aging, but can also be caused by a more sinister condition called testosterone deficiency syndrome.
Testosterone deficiency syndrome, also known as late-onset hypogonadism, is a medical condition that is characterised by insufficient testosterone activity in the body.
Low testosterone usually occurs in older men, but can happen in men under 30 as well. Low testosterone in younger men can be caused by illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, genetic conditions, and disorders.
Symptoms of low testosterone include rapid hair loss, loss of libido, infertility, decreased strength and muscle mass, persistent fatigue, a depressed mood, sleep disturbances, low red blood cell count, and decreased bone mass.
Very low testosterone levels are also associated with metabolic syndrome, characterised by increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess body fat.
It is estimated that about 25% of men aged 45 and above in Singapore suffer from some degree of testosterone deficiency. This is a significant figure, which makes testosterone deficiency syndrome something which men should not ignore.
Screening for low testosterone should be considered if the following symptoms are experienced:
Testing can be easily done at a Parkway Shenton clinic through a blood test. Should the result show low testosterone levels, the test should be repeated again to confirm the diagnosis of low testosterone. Further investigative tests will usually be required to determine the cause of the testosterone deficiency.
Testosterone replacement therapy is usually recommended for men with symptoms of testosterone deficiency, and who return consistently with low testosterone levels in their blood tests.
Therapy is usually not recommended if no symptoms are experienced, even if the blood tests show persistently low levels of testosterone. This is because testosterone replacement therapy has potential side-effects.
The main goal of treatment is to restore the testosterone level to the normal range. Testosterone replacement therapy is available in various forms. These include testosterone gels, testosterone patches, oral tablets and intramuscular injections.
Before initiating treatment, your doctor will also screen for medical conditions which will make testosterone replacement therapy unsuitable. These include prostate lumps, raised prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, or raised haematocrit (volume percentage of red blood cells in your blood) levels.
Testosterone replacement therapy has multiple benefits. These include improved sexual function, improved physical function, improved executive function, better mood, and improved bone mass.
However, patients on testosterone replacement therapy have to be monitored regularly (usually every 6 months) to see how they are responding to treatment, and if any side-effects are experienced, such as raised haematocrit or PSA levels.
Using testosterone replacement therapy to counter declining testosterone levels due to normal aging is not advisable. However, if you suspect that your declining testosterone level is due to a medical condition, it is important to seek your doctor’s advice on treatment. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the suitable tests and treatment options for the condition.