Male hypogonadism is a clinical syndrome caused by a lack of androgens or their action. Causes of hypogonadism may reflect abnormalities of the hypothalamus, pituitary, testes or target tissues. Increases in the amount of testosterone converted to estrogen under the action of the enzyme aromatase may also contribute to hypogonadism. Most aspects of the clinical syndrome are unrelated to the location of the cause. A greater factor in the production of a clinical syndrome is the age of onset. The development of hypogonadism with aging is known as late-onset hypogonadism and is characterised by loss of vitality, fatigue, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, somnolence, depression and poor concentration. Hypogonadal ageing men also gain fat mass and lose bone mass, muscle mass and strength.
Low testosterone levels may contribute to decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fragile bones, and other health issues. Having low testosterone levels may also indicate an underlying medical condition. See your doctor if you suspect you have low testosterone. A simple blood test is all it takes to check if your testosterone falls within the normal range.
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The aim of treatment for hypogonadism is to normalize serum testosterone levels and abolish symptoms or pathological states that are due to low testosterone levels. The exact target testosterone level is a matter of debate, but current recommendations advocate levels in the mid-lower normal adult range (Nieschlag et al 2005). Truly physiological testosterone replacement would require replication of the diurnal rhythm of serum testosterone levels, but there is no current evidence that this is beneficial (Nieschlag et al 2005).
An occasional problem achieving an erection is nothing to worry about. But failure to do so more than 50% of the time at any age may indicate a condition that needs treatment. About 40% of men in their 40s report at least occasional problems getting and maintaining erections. So do more than half (52%) of men aged 40 to 70, and about 70% of men in their 70s.
Sleep apnea is another frequently listed contraindication to testosterone treatment. There have been a few reports of the development, or worsening, of sleep apnea during testosterone therapy (Matsumoto et al 1985) but sleep apnea is actually associated with lower serum testosterone levels (Luboshitzky et al 2002). The reduction in fat mass during treatment with testosterone could potentially be beneficial for sleep apnea, so many specialists will still consider patients for treatment with appropriate monitoring. It is wise to take a clinical history for sleep apnea during testosterone treatment in all men and perform sleep studies in those who develop symptoms.
When I first started TRT, my physician prescribed a cream that you rub into your skin. The cream version of TRT is not too convenient, because if someone touches you while you have the cream on, the testosterone can rub off on him/her. This can be really bad around kids or pregnant women. If you’re sleeping next to someone, the cream can get on the sheets and transfer over that way, too. The cream can be annoying, but it works. There’s also a gel version called AndroGel; I skipped it because it doesn’t absorb as well as the cream does.