Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, chief of the endocrinology division at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and a professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, served on the panel of experts who developed the Endocrine Society's guidelines. He is also the principal investigator for one of the 12 sites of The Testosterone Trial in Older Men, a nationwide study funded mainly by the National Institute on Aging. The study of 800 men over age 65 with low testosterone is looking at whether men using AndroGel for one year, compared to placebo, will show improvements in walking speed, sexual activity, vitality, memory, and anemia. The study will be completed in June 2015.

Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men, and it is responsible for the development of many of the physical characteristics that are considered typically male. Women also produce the hormone in much smaller amounts. Testosterone, part of a hormone class known as androgens, is produced by the testicles after stimulation by the pituitary gland, which is located near the base of the brain, and it sends signals to a male's testicles (or to a woman's ovaries) that spark feelings of sexual desire. (1)
A physical exam checks your total health. Examination focusing on your genitals (penis and testicles) is often done to check for ED. Based on your age and risk factors, the exam may also focus on your heart and blood system: heart, peripheral pulses and blood pressure. Based on your age and family history your doctor may do a rectal exam to check the prostate. These tests are not painful. Most patients do not need a lot of testing before starting treatment.
Diabetes is an example of an endocrine disease that can cause a person to experience impotence. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to utilize the hormone insulin. One of the side effects associated with chronic diabetes is nerve damage. This affects penis sensations. Other complications associated with diabetes are impaired blood flow and hormone levels. Both of these factors can contribute to impotence.
Hormone deficiency or hypogonadism, whether primary or secondary, has been thought to impact erectile function. Approximately a third of men in the European Male Aging Study demonstrated low testosterone, suggesting that hypogonadism is overrepresented among men with ED.11 Hormone deficiency, however, is less frequently the cause of ED than diabetes or vascular disease. Many entities with a strong relationship to ED also diminish bioavailable testosterone, including obesity, diabetes, and opioid use. Other hormones involved in testosterone metabolism or availability, like thyroid stimulating hormone and gonadotropins, also may impact erectile quality, presumably through regulating bioavailable testosterone. Understanding the relationship between testosterone and ED has been impaired by a lack of standardized measurement of this hormone and the cyclic nature of its release and consumption.
Many clinical studies have looked at the effect of testosterone treatment on body composition in hypogonadal men or men with borderline low testosterone levels. Some of these studies specifically examine these changes in older men (Tenover 1992; Morley et al 1993; Urban et al 1995; Sih et al 1997; Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2001; Ferrando et al 2002; Steidle et al 2003; Page et al 2005). The data from studies, on patients from all age groups, are consistent in showing an increase in fat free mass and decrease in fat mass or visceral adiposity with testosterone treatment. A recent meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment effects on body composition confirms this pattern (Isidori et al 2005). There have been less consistent results with regard to the effects of testosterone treatment of muscle strength. Some studies have shown an increase in muscle strength (Ferrando et al 2002; Page et al 2005) with testosterone whilst others have not (Snyder et al 1999). Within the same trial some muscle group strengths may improve whilst others do not (Ly et al 2001). It is likely that the differences are partly due to the methodological variations in assessing strength, but it also possible that testosterone has different effects on the various muscle groups. The meta-analysis found trends toward significant improvements in dominant knee and hand grip strength only (Isidori et al 2005).

Erectile dysfunction, also known as ED or impotence, is the inability to attain or maintain an erection of the penis adequate for the sexual satisfaction of both partners. It can be devastating to the self-esteem of a man and of his partner. As many as 30 million American men are afflicted on a continuing basis, and transient episodes affect nearly all adult males. But nearly all men who seek treatment find some measure of relief.

The diagnosis of late-onset hypogonadism requires the combination of low serum testosterone levels with symptoms of hypogonadism. Questionnaires are available which check for the symptoms of hypogonadism. These have been validated for the assessment of aging patients with hypogonadism (Morley et al 2000; Moore et al 2004) but have a low specificity. In view of the overlap in symptoms between hypogonadism, aging and other medical conditions it is wise to use a formal method of symptom assessment which can be used to monitor the effects of testosterone replacement.


Low testosterone levels can cause mood disturbances, increased body fat, loss of muscle tone, inadequate erections and poor sexual performance, osteoporosis, difficulty with concentration, memory loss and sleep difficulties. Current research suggests that this effect occurs in only a minority (about 2%) of ageing men. However, there is a lot of research currently in progress to find out more about the effects of testosterone in older men and also whether the use of testosterone replacement therapy would have any benefits.
Epidemiological studies have also assessed links between serum testosterone and non-coronary atherosclerosis. A study of over 1000 people aged 55 years and over found an inverse correlation between serum total and bioavailable testosterone and the amount of aortic atherosclerosis in men, as assessed by radiological methods (Hak et al 2002). Increased intima-media thickness (IMT) is an early sign of atherosclerosis and has also been shown to predict cardiovascular mortality (Murakami et al 2005). Cross-sectional studies have found that testosterone levels are negatively correlated with carotid IMT in independently living men aged 74–93 years (van den Beld et al 2003), diabetic men (Fukui et al 2003) and young obese men (De Pergola et al 2003). A 4-year follow up study of the latter population showed that free testosterone was also inversely correlated with the rate of increase of IMT (Muller et al 2004).
The brain is also affected by this sexual differentiation;[13] the enzyme aromatase converts testosterone into estradiol that is responsible for masculinization of the brain in male mice. In humans, masculinization of the fetal brain appears, by observation of gender preference in patients with congenital diseases of androgen formation or androgen receptor function, to be associated with functional androgen receptors.[95]

Abnormally high levels of testosterone could be the result of an adrenal gland disorder, or even cancer of the testes. High levels may also occur in less serious conditions. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which can affect males and females, is a rare but natural cause for elevated testosterone production. Your doctor may order other tests if your levels are exceedingly high.


While testosterone stimulates a man’s sex drive, it also aids in achieving and maintaining an erection. Testosterone alone doesn’t cause an erection, but it stimulates receptors in the brain to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a molecule that helps trigger a series of chemical reactions necessary for an erection to occur. When testosterone levels are too low, a man may have difficulty achieving an erection prior to sex or having spontaneous erections (for example, during sleep).

Men with medical conditions that may cause a sustained erection, such as sickle cell anemia, leukemia, or multiple myeloma, or a man who has an abnormally-shaped penis, may not benefit from these medications. Also, men with liver diseases or a disease of the retina, such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, may not be able to take these medications, or may need to take the lowest dosage.
Diabetes is an example of an endocrine disease that can cause a person to experience impotence. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to utilize the hormone insulin. One of the side effects associated with chronic diabetes is nerve damage. This affects penis sensations. Other complications associated with diabetes are impaired blood flow and hormone levels. Both of these factors can contribute to impotence.
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