Male menopause: Myth or reality?
Male menopause: Myth or reality?
Hormone changes are a natural part of aging. Unlike the more dramatic reproductive hormone plunge that occurs in women during menopause, however, sex hormone changes in men occur gradually — over a period of many years. Here's what to expect, and what you can do about it.
Debunking the male menopause myth
The term "male menopause" is sometimes used to describe decreasing testosterone levels or a reduction in the bioavailability of testosterone related to aging. Female menopause and so-called male menopause are two different situations, however. In women, ovulation ends and hormone production plummets during a relatively short period of time. In men, hormone production and testosterone bioavailability decline more gradually. The effects — such as changes in sexual function, energy level or mood — tend to be subtle and might go unnoticed for years.
So what's the best way to refer to so-called male menopause? Many doctors use the term "andropause" to describe aging-related hormone changes in men. Other terms for so-called male menopause include testosterone deficiency, androgen deficiency of the aging male and late-onset hypogonadism.
Understanding male hormones over time
Testosterone levels vary greatly among men. In general, however, older men tend to have lower testosterone levels than do younger men. Testosterone levels gradually decline throughout adulthood — about 1 percent a year after age 30 on average. By about age 70, the decrease in a man's testosterone level can be as much as 50 percent.
Recognizing low testosterone levels
Some men have a lower than normal testosterone level without signs or symptoms. For others, low testosterone might cause:
It's important to note that some of these signs and symptoms are a normal part of aging. Others can be caused by various underlying factors, including medication side effects, thyroid problems, depression and excessive alcohol use. A blood test is the only way to diagnose a low testosterone level or a reduction in the bioavailability of testosterone.
Feeling your best
If you suspect that you have a low testosterone level, consult your doctor. He or she can evaluate possible causes for your signs and symptoms and explain treatment options. You can't boost your natural testosterone production, but these steps might help:
Treating aging-related low testosterone with testosterone replacement therapy is controversial. For some men, testosterone therapy relieves bothersome signs and symptoms of testosterone deficiency. For others, however — particularly older men — the benefits aren't clear. The risks are a concern as well. Testosterone replacement therapy might increase the risk of prostate cancer or other health problems. If you wonder whether testosterone injections or other testosterone treatments might be right for you, work with your doctor to weigh the pros and cons.
Last Updated: 2011-07-23
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