Testosterone Replacement Therapy

By:    Published: July 24, 2012

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Many men who suffer from low testosterone levels look to testosterone replacement therapy as a means of replenishing testosterone and decreasing some of the side effects that occur when levels fall too low. There are many potential benefits of taking testosterone replacement therapy, but it is important to know all the facts before beginning this or any type of hormone treatment.

What Is Testosterone?

Testosterone is a hormone that helps regulate many of the body’s functions and is produced in the testicles. One of these functions is the development of the sexual characteristics in the male. Testosterone levels are at their highest during adolescence and into young adulthood. As men age, their testosterone levels slowly decrease.

After men reach the age of 30, their testosterone levels generally decline at a rate of approximately 1 percent per year. For this reason, low testosterone levels in older aged men are a fairly normal occurrence. However, even though low testosterone can be a normal part of the aging process, many men seek treatment to alleviate some of the symptoms that are associated with low testosterone levels.

Testosterone is important in helping to maintain a healthy sex drive. It is also necessary for the production of sperm. Testosterone also helps to:

  • Maintain healthy bone density
  • Assist with balanced fat distribution
  • Build and maintain muscle strength and mass
  • Produce red blood cells

What Is Testosterone Deficiency?

Testosterone deficiency occurs when the production rate of testosterone slows down. This can occur as a result of aging or due to other conditions that may interfere with adequate hormone production. When testosterone levels fall below the normal range, testosterone deficiency develops. When any of the body’s normal functions are out of balance due to low testosterone levels, a host of side effects and various symptoms can develop. Men with low testosterone levels may experience:

  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Fewer spontaneous erections
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Increased body fat
  • Decreased muscle bulk
  • Weakened muscles
  • Hair loss
  • Lower bone density
  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of motivation
  • Low self-confidence
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness

A testosterone deficiency is only one possible cause of any of these symptoms. These symptoms can develop for many other reasons, such as the use of medication, alcoholism, depression, thyroid issues and as a normal result of aging.

Identifying Testosterone Deficiency

Testosterone deficiency can only be confirmed by a blood test. During an examination, your doctor will evaluate your condition and take note of any symptoms that you are experiencing. If you are experiencing some of the symptoms associated with low testosterone levels, a testosterone deficiency may be suspected. A simple blood test will be ordered to measure the amount of testosterone circulating in your blood.

Testosterone levels can fluctuate. For this reason, your doctor will likely order multiple blood tests to evaluate your levels. Generally, testosterone levels will reach their peak in the morning hours, so it is likely that your doctor will order your blood tests to be taken very early in the day.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

If a testosterone deficiency is confirmed, your doctor may suggest that you begin testosterone replacement therapy. Whether or not your physician recommends the treatment will depend on the underlying reason for the low testosterone levels.

If levels are low due to an underlying medical condition, such as hypogonadism, there is a good chance that testosterone replacement therapy will be effective in restoring healthy testosterone levels and alleviating symptoms. If testosterone levels are low with no identifying factors other than advanced age, testosterone replacement therapy may not be as effective.

How Does Testosterone Replacement Therapy Work?

Testosterone replacement therapy helps to increase the amount of testosterone in the blood. Testosterone replacement therapy can work in several different ways, including:

  • Intramuscular injections given every 2-3 weeks
  • A daily skin patch worn on the body or the scrotum that releases a steady stream of testosterone into the body
  • Testosterone gels or creams applied to the arms, shoulders or abdomen

There are side effectives and benefits associated with each type of application. You may have to try multiple approaches before you find the type of replacement therapy that works best for you.

Safety Of Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Although testosterone replacement therapy is approved by the FDA and is generally considered safe, there are some risks that are associated with its use. Possible risks include:

  • Stimulating growth of the prostate
  • Stimulating growth of prostate cancer
  • Stimulating growth of male breast cancer

For this reason, it is important that all men undergo screening for prostate cancer prior to beginning treatment with testosterone replacement therapy. Men who are diagnosed with prostate or breast cancer should not begin treatment.

Possible Side Effects

There are a variety of side effects associated with the use of testosterone replacement therapy. Possible side effects include:

  • Breast enlargement
  • Worsening of sleep apnea
  • Overproduction of red blood cells
  • Acne
  • Oily skin
  • Limit sperm production
  • Testicular shrinkage
  • Mild fluid retention
  • Cholesterol level changes

Men suffering from a testosterone deficiency may wish to consider starting testosterone replacement therapy. Speak with your doctor to discuss the potential risks associated with therapy and determine if it is the right choice for you.

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