"After age 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in testosterone," says David Samadi, MD, chairman of the urology department at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Although testosterone levels never reach zero (as estrogen levels do in women during menopause), low testosterone levels men to experience symptoms like fatigue, low libido, and loss of muscle mass.
While reduced testosterone is more common in older men, it can occur in younger guys also. Fortunately, all of the causes of low testosterone in young guys are curable, so if you encounter these symptoms at any age, there's no reason to ignore it.
For younger men, a fall in testosterone levels can be caused by some ailments, such as type 2 diabetes, diabetes, chronic liver or liver disease, COPD or other lung disease, or pituitary gland issues, according to Dr. Samadi.
Genetic causes of low testosterone in males include the ailments Klinefelter syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Myotonic dystrophy. Another disease that can result in low testosterone is hemochromatosis, which makes the body store too much iron.
"Low testosterone can also result when something happens, like trauma or steroid use, that prevents the testes from making the hormone," says Bruce Gilbert, MD, PhD, an adjunct clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of reproductive and sexual medicine in the Smith Institute for Urology of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.
Additional causes of low testosterone in men younger than 50 include pituitary gland tumors, HIV infection, and radiation treatment or chemotherapy for cancer.
Doctors categorize causes of low testosterone as secondary or primary.
"Primary hypogonadism stems from a problem in the testicles," Samadi states. In secondary hypogonadism, the testicles are normal but function improperly because of a problem with the hypothalamus or pituitary gland."
Can It Be Low Testosterone?
Regardless of the cause, low testosterone symptoms would be the same.
"Symptoms include low libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, decreased mental acuity and moodiness," Dr. Gilbert states.
"Younger men with low testosterone usually come to me and say, ‘I can't work out like I used to, and I've lost interest in sex.’ ”
"When it comes to treating low testosterone in older guys, we generally reserve treatment for people who have symptoms, such as tiredness and low libido," Gilbert says.
In men who don't make the hormone in their testes because of a condition such as Klinefelter syndrome, or those who have lost their testes because of cancer, the only option is testosterone replacement therapy. Such testosterone supplements come in the form of a gel, injections, patches, long-acting pellets, or oral inserts.
In these circumstances,"treatments are usually used only in the brief term, and if a physician has close monitoring and understanding of the patient," Gilbert says.
An important consideration for younger men before getting treatment is fertility. "You do not want to offer supplemental testosterone to men who are interested in being fertile because it can turn off sperm production," Gilbert says.
Once a young man goes off testosterone supplementation, there's a chance his sperm count will never return to what it was before he started. "Hence, men of reproductive age should consider alternatives that might improve their testosterone as well as maintain their sperm production," he says. 1 such choice is a category of drugs known as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs).
Other remedies for low testosterone include weight loss and other lifestyle modifications, like eating healthier and raising exercise.
The main point, however, is that if you've got low testosterone symptoms, then it is important to see your physician. Then, your doctor can rule out more serious causes of your symptoms, including high blood pressure or a thyroid problem, and give treatment that can improve your energy and quality of life.