Epidemiological studies suggest that many significant clinical findings and important disease states are linked to low testosterone levels. These include osteoporosis (Campion and Maricic 2003), Alzheimer’s disease (Moffat et al 2004), frailty, obesity (Svartberg, von Muhlen, Sundsfjord et al 2004), diabetes (Barrett-Connor 1992), hypercholesterolemia (Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003), hypertension (Phillips et al 1993), cardiac failure (Tappler and Katz 1979; Kontoleon et al 2003) and ischemic heart disease (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988). The extent to which testosterone deficiency is involved in the pathogenesis of these conditions, or to which testosterone supplementation could be useful in their treatment is an area of great interest with many unanswered questions.
It is hard to know how many men among us have TD, although data suggest that overall about 2.1% (about 2 men in every 100) may have TD. As few as 1% of younger men may have TD, while as many as 50% of men over 80 years old may have TD. People who study the condition often use different cut-off points for the numbers, so you may hear different numbers being stated.
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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.
"A lot of the symptoms are mirrored by other medical problems," Hedges says. "And for a long time, we were not attributing them to low testosterone, but to diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. But awareness and appreciation of low testosterone has risen. We recognize now that low testosterone may be at the root of problems."
Relationship problems often complicate erectile dysfunction. Improving your relationship may be part of the solution. It may be a good idea to get counseling together from a sex therapist, marriage counselor, or a medical specialist. "I almost always see couples together to discuss erectile dysfunction. It often turns out that both partners have issues regarding the sexual relationship and once they are out in the open, couples can work together on a more satisfying sexual experience," says Feloney.
The normal development of the prostate gland is dependent on the action of testosterone via the androgen receptor, and abnormal biosynthesis of the hormone or inactivating mutations of the androgen receptor are associated with a rudimentary prostate gland. Testosterone also requires conversion to dihydrotestosterone in the prostate gland for full activity. In view of this link between testosterone and prostate development, it is important to consider the impact that testosterone replacement may have on the prevalence and morbidity associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and prostate cancer, which are the common conditions related to pathological growth of the prostate gland.
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.
Findings that improvements in serum glucose, serum insulin, insulin resistance or glycemic control, in men treated with testosterone are accompanied by reduced measures of central obesity, are in line with other studies showing a specific effect of testosterone in reducing central or visceral obesity (Rebuffe-Scrive et al 1991; Marin, Holmang et al 1992). Furthermore, studies that have shown neutral effects of testosterone on glucose metabolism have not measured (Corrales et al 2004), or shown neutral effects (Lee et al 2005) (Tripathy et al 1998; Bhasin et al 2005) on central obesity. Given the known association of visceral obesity with insulin resistance, it is possible that testosterone treatment of hypogonadal men acts to improve insulin resistance and diabetes through an effect in reducing central obesity. This effect can be explained by the action of testosterone in inhibiting lipoprotein lipase and thereby reducing triglyceride uptake into adipocytes (Sorva et al 1988), an action which seems to occur preferentially in visceral fat (Marin et al 1995; Marin et al 1996). Visceral fat is thought to be more responsive to hormonal changes due to a greater concentration of androgen receptors and increased vascularity compared with subcutaneous fat (Bjorntorp 1996). Further explanation of the links between hypogonadism and obesity is offered by the hypogonadal-obesity-adipocytokine cycle hypothesis (see Figure 1). In this model, increases in body fat lead to increases in aromatase levels, in addition to insulin resistance, adverse lipid profiles and increased leptin levels. Increased action of aromatase in metabolizing testosterone to estrogen, reduces testosterone levels which induces further accumulation of visceral fat. Higher leptin levels and possibly other factors, act at the pituitary to suppress gonadotrophin release and exacerbate hypogonadism (Cohen 1999; Kapoor et al 2005). Leptin has also been shown to reduce testosterone secretion from rodent testes in vitro (Tena-Sempere et al 1999). A full review of the relationship between testosterone, insulin resistance and diabetes can be found elsewhere (Kapoor et al 2005; Jones 2007).
If it is determined that ED is a problem, the patient evaluation should include a detailed sexual and medical history and a physical exam. In particular, it is important to evaluate the ED within the context of ejaculatory problems. There is a strong interplay between premature ejaculation (PE) and ED, with about a third of ED patients reporting PE. The relationship between the PE and ED is bidirectional and successful treatment of one often requires treatment of the other.14
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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).
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.
Regardless of the method of testosterone treatment chosen, patients will require regular monitoring during the first year of treatment in order to monitor clinical response to testosterone, testosterone levels and adverse effects, including prostate cancer (see Table 2). It is recommended that patients should be reviewed at least every three months during this time. Once treatment has been established, less frequent review is appropriate but the care of the patient should be the responsibility of an appropriately trained specialist with sufficient experience of managing patients treated with testosterone.