Present in much greater levels in men than women, testosterone initiates the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs during foetal development and is essential for the production of sperm in adult life. This hormone also signals the body to make new blood cells, ensures that muscles and bones stay strong during and after puberty and enhances libido both in men and women. Testosterone is linked to many of the changes seen in boys during puberty (including an increase in height, body and pubic hair growth, enlargement of the penis, testes and prostate gland, and changes in sexual and aggressive behaviour). It also regulates the secretion of luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone. To effect these changes, testosterone is often converted into another androgen called dihydrotestosterone.
Hypogonadism is a disease in which the body is unable to produce normal amounts of testosterone due to a problem with the testicles or with the pituitary gland that controls the testicles. Testosterone replacement therapy can improve the signs and symptoms of low testosterone in these men. Doctors may prescribe testosterone as injections, pellets, patches or gels.
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The group's 2010 clinical practice guidelines make it clear that "the threshold testosterone level below which symptoms of androgen deficiency and adverse health outcomes occur and testosterone administration improves outcomes in the general population is not known." They also clearly advise against screening men in the general population to avoid "labeling and medicalization of otherwise healthy men for whom testing, treatment, and monitoring would represent a burden with unclear benefit."
Some of these signs and symptoms can be caused by various underlying factors, including medication side effects, obstructive sleep apnea, thyroid problems, diabetes and depression. It's also possible that these conditions may be the cause of low testosterone levels, and treatment of these problems may cause testosterone levels to rise. A blood test is the only way to diagnose a low testosterone level.
Conditions associated with reduced nerve and endothelium function (eg, aging, hypertension, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes) alter the balance between contraction and relaxation factors (see Pathophysiology). These conditions cause circulatory and structural changes in penile tissues, resulting in arterial insufficiency and defective smooth muscle relaxation. In some patients, sexual dysfunction may be the presenting symptom of these disorders.
However, testosterone is only one of many factors that aid in adequate erections. Research is inconclusive regarding the role of testosterone replacement in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. In a review of studies that looked at the benefit of testosterone in men with erection difficulties, nearly half showed no improvement with testosterone treatment. Many times, other health problems play a role in erectile difficulties. These can include:
The PDE5 inhibitors sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis) are prescription drugs which are taken orally.:20–21 Additionally, a cream combining alprostadil with the permeation enhancer DDAIP has been approved in Canada as a first line treatment for erectile dysfunction. Penile injections, on the other hand, can involve one of the following medications: papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1.:25
One study examined the role of testosterone supplementation in hypogonadal men with ED. These men were considered nonresponders to sildenafil, and their erections were monitored by assessing nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT). After these men were given testosterone transdermally for 6 months, the number of NPTs increased, as did the maximum rigidity with sildenafil.  This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
The participants were seen every 4 weeks. Blood was taken to measure hormone levels, and questionnaires were given to assess physical function, health status, vitality, and sexual function. Body fat and muscle measurements were also taken at the beginning and end of the 16 weeks. The study was funded in part by NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Results appeared in the September 12, 2013, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
Men can experience a range of symptoms if testosterone decreases more than it should. Low testosterone, or low T, is diagnosed when levels fall below 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). A normal range is typically 300–1000 ng/dL, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A blood test called a serum testosterone test is used to determine your level of circulating testosterone.
Causes of impotence are many and include heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Peyronie's disease, substance abuse, sleep disorders, BPH treatments, relationship problems, blood vessel diseases (such as peripheral vascular disease and others), systemic disease, hormonal imbalance, and medications (such as blood pressure and heart medications).
Male hypogonadism becomes more common with increasing age and is currently an under-treated condition. The diagnosis of hypogonadism in the aging male requires a combination of symptoms and low serum testosterone levels. The currently available testosterone preparations can produce consistent physiological testosterone levels and provide for patient preference.