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.
Dr. Anawalt called the diagnosis and treatment of low testosterone a careful balancing act. "You don't want to leave the impression that no one is at risk for low testosterone," he said. He explained that physicians need to be aware that men coming in with low libido, sexual function, osteoporosis, or new breast sensitivity might well have low testosterone. Besides measuring testosterone— usually two or even three times—confirmatory tests will also measure other hormones that regulate testosterone and sperm production in the testicle. "If they don't have that evidence," said Dr. Anawalt, "we will tell a man we don't think you're suffering from the effects of low testosterone."
The changes in average serum testosterone levels with aging mean that the proportion of men fulfilling a biochemically defined diagnosis of hypogonadism increases with aging. Twenty percent of men aged over 60 have total testosterone levels below the normal range and the figure rises to 50% in those aged over 80. The figures concerning free testosterone are even higher as would be expected in view of the concurrent decrease in SHBG levels (Harman et al 2001).
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.