Hypogonadism (Low Testosterone)
UW Health urologists provide specialized care for men with low testosterone, or hypogonadism.
Dr. Dan Williams on Low Testosterone
More about Low Testosterone
- In men, the testicles are responsible for producing sperm and the hormone testosterone. Testosterone can affect many different aspects of a man's overall health, including energy level, mood, libido (sex drive), strength, sexual function, and bone density.
- Low testosterone, also called hypogonadism, is a condition that generally occurs with time. As men age, their testosterone levels slowly decline. In some men, that decline is faster than in others.
- Certain medical conditions, including diabetes and chronic pain, can affect testosterone levels, as can certain medications.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Symptoms of low testosterone include:
- Low energy/fatigue
- Difficulty with concentration
- Decreased work performance
- Sexual dysfunction
- Decreased strength
- Loss of lean body mass
- Decreased sex drive
Long-standing low testosterone levels can decrease bone mineral density and increase the risk of osteoporosis in some men.
Primary Low Testosterone
Primary hypogonadism originates from a problem in the testicles. Common causes of primary hypogonadism include:
- Normal aging
- Injury to the testicles
- Cancer treatment
- Undescended testicles
- Mumps orchitis (mumps infection involving the testicles)
- Hemochromatosis (too much iron in the blood)
- Klinefelter syndrome (abnormality of the sex chromosomes X and Y)
Secondary Low Testosterone
In secondary hypogonadism, the testicles are normal but function improperly due to a problem in the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland, parts of the brain that signal the testicles to produce testosterone. If chemical messages from the pituitary gland to the testicles aren't sent, impaired testicular function occurs.
Common causes of secondary hypogonadism include:
- Abnormality in the pituitary gland
- Kallmann syndrome (abnormal development of the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls the secretion of pituitary hormones)
- Inflammatory disease
- The use of certain medications, including narcotics for chronic pain
Either type of hypogonadism may be caused by an inherited (congenital) trait or something that happens later in life (acquired), such as the normal aging process, an injury or an infection.
Testing for Low Testosterone
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of low testosterone, your physician may recommend checking your testosterone levels.
If tests confirm low testosterone, additional studies can pinpoint the cause.
These studies may include:
- Further hormone testing
- Pituitary imaging
- Genetic studies
If fertility is a concern, other studies may include semen analysis.
If symptomatic men are found to have low testosterone, testosterone replacement therapy is a safe and effective way to return testosterone levels to the normal range. Depending on the underlying cause of the low testosterone levels, your urologist will recommend a specific course of treatment.
Testosterone treatments available at UW Health include:
- Topical gel
- Transdermal patch (skin patch)
- Buccal estosterone (applied on the gum and cheek to get into bloodstream)
- Long-acting injectable pellets
Any of the above testosterone treatments can lower a man's sperm count. For men wishing to maintain their reproductive potential, there are other medications to help the body improve testosterone levels while maintaining sperm production.
Other Treatments for Low Testosterone
Testosterone is not available in a pill form in the United States. However, there is a prescription oral medication which can potentially increase a man's own testosterone production.
Natural ways of raising one's own testosterone production include eating a healthy well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and losing weight. There is no rigorous scientific evidence that any over-the-counter supplements are able to reliably boost a man's testosterone.