You may want to test your testosterone levels if you notice any abnormal symptoms, such as hair loss, weight loss, or acne.
The hormone testosterone (T) is often associated with masculinity. But women’s bodies also make testosterone. Too little testosterone in men or too much in women can indicate serious health problems.
In men, the testicles make testosterone. In women, the ovaries produce the hormone.
Testosterone is responsible for traits such as body hair, muscle mass, and strength. Men with low levels of testosterone might notice a reduction in these traits, while women with too much testosterone might notice an increase in these traits.
You may want to take a testosterone level test if you believe your testosterone levels aren’t within a normal range.
Normal and Abnormal Levels
A normal testosterone level range for men is 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). For women, it’s between 15 and 70 ng/dL. However, it’s also considered normal to have changes in your level of testosterone throughout your life.
Testosterone levels can decrease naturally due to your age or other health conditions. After the age of 40, men’s testosterone levels decrease by an average of at least 1 percent every year. Some symptoms of low testosterone, particularly erectile dysfunction, are commonly seen in men over 40. Low testosterone levels have often been observed in people with obesity, no matter their age.
The most common testosterone-related problem in men is hypogonadism, also called low testosterone or low T.
Your testosterone level may be abnormally low if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
- decreased sex drive;
- inability to achieve an erection (erectile dysfunction);
- inability to conceive a child;
- overall tiredness.
Women with too much testosterone may grow facial hair, develop a deeper voice, or experience decreased breast size. Too much testosterone in women can also cause acne.
One possible cause of too much testosterone in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS can make it difficult to get pregnant and interfere with menstruation.
Abnormally high or low levels of testosterone in men and women can indicate other serious conditions. High T levels can indicate ovarian or testicular cancer. Low T levels can indicate chronic illness or a problem with the pituitary gland, which releases hormones.
In infant boys and girls, signs of abnormal testosterone levels may be more extreme. Testosterone tests are often ordered for boys and girls who aren’t developing properly or when parents notice delayed puberty.
Boys with low T may grow slowly, with no body hair and poorly developed muscles. Girls with high T may have delayed menstruation or too much body hair. Boys with high T may enter puberty early and robustly.
How is a testosterone test performed?
Getting testosterone levels checked requires a simple blood test. The test is usually performed in the morning when T levels are highest. Sometimes, the test needs to be retaken to confirm the measurements.
Before the test, a doctor may ask you to stop taking any prescriptions that could affect your testosterone levels. Some medications that can artificially increase your testosterone levels include:
- steroids (but T levels can fall rapidly after stopping them);
- androgen or estrogen therapies.
Some medications, including opiates, can artificially decrease your testosterone levels. If you’re taking any of the medications above, alert a doctor. They’ll ensure that your testosterone test results are accurate.
Depending on your symptoms, a doctor may also perform a physical examination. If you’re male, a doctor may perform a physical if they notice:
- a loss of facial hair;
- a loss of height;
- signs of gynecomastia, an abnormal increase in breast tissue size;
- abnormal weight gain.
If you’re female, a doctor may perform a physical if they notice:
- abnormal facial acne;
- abnormal hair growth on your lips or chin (hirsutism);
- abnormal hair thinning or balding on the head.
How can I treat my abnormal testosterone levels?
Ask a doctor about testosterone tests if you suspect that you have abnormal hormone levels or if you notice developmental issues in your children. A wide range of treatments is available.
The most common treatment for low testosterone is testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). TRT is given as an injection, a skin patch, or a topical gel containing testosterone that replaces the testosterone missing from your body.
Though this treatment is common, TRT is known to have some risks and side effects. They include:
- sleep apnea;
- blood clot formation;
- benign prostatic hyperplasia, or prostate growth;
- possible increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
However, if you ask a doctor to adjust a dose and if you don’t overdose on your testosterone, then the risks are minimal.
If you’re taking any medications or supplements (such as steroids) that abnormally affect your testosterone levels, a doctor may ask you to stop taking them or suggest an alternative.
If you notice any abnormal symptoms, such as hair loss, weight loss, or acne, especially if you’re under 40, you may want to test your testosterone levels. A test can help reveal whether any underlying conditions, health issues, or lifestyle choices are affecting your testosterone production.
In many cases, testosterone levels can vary simply based on your age, diet, drug regime, or even your level of activity. A testosterone test may indicate that your levels are merely a result of the natural aging process or a number of other factors that you can cure.
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