When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
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.
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.
But if a man with sleep apnea is diagnosed with low testosterone alone, taking the supplemental hormone can worsen sleep apnea. That's why it's crucial for men with low testosterone to get a thorough workup by an endocrinologist so underlying conditions that can cause low testosterone, such as sleep apnea or pituitary-gland tumors, don't go undiagnosed, Dr. Goodman says.
So what is this Big T, anyway? Derived from cholesterol, testosterone is a steroid hormone—called an androgen—that causes the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics. It's mainly secreted by the testicles in males, although the adrenal cortex and ovaries in females also secrete testosterone—though only about one-tenth the amount as in healthy males.
The symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause. Arousal starts in the brain but it also involves the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
Testosterone is used as a medication for the treatment of males with too little or no natural testosterone production, certain forms of breast cancer, and gender dysphoria in transgender men. This is known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which maintains serum testosterone levels in the normal range. Decline of testosterone production with age has led to interest in androgen replacement therapy. It is unclear if the use of testosterone for low levels due to aging is beneficial or harmful.
Psychosocial problems are important and may cause erectile dysfunction by themselves or together with other causes of erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes and heart disease. Relationships are complicated and many factors cause tensions, which can affect sexual relations. For some men, these problems can become ongoing and it can help to talk through the issue with a skilled counsellor. It is important to know that the longer erectile dysfunction is left untreated, the greater the effect on relationships. This is another reason why early treatment of erectile dysfunction is important.