Know How You Go From Suspecting Low-T to Being Diagnosed With It
If you're concerned about low testosterone, luckily you can get tested to check your levels of this important hormone. Here's how to get tested and make sense of your results.
What is low-T?
Testosterone levels naturally fluctuate during different stages of life. An initial surge of testosterone in puberty leads to the development of male features such as facial hair, muscle mass, voice changes and sperm production. Testosterone levels decrease with aging by about 1 percent each year starting around age 30. Levels that fall below 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) are considered "low-T," also known as testosterone deficiency syndrome, according to the American Urological Association.
Common symptoms of low-T include:
- Body fat accumulation
- Breast enlargement
- Erectile dysfunction
- Less body hair
- Lower sex drive
- Muscle loss
- Trouble sleeping
Given this list of symptoms, it's no wonder so many men want to know more about increasing their testosterone levels. However, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) isn't for everyone, and in some cases, addressing the underlying causes of low testosterone is a safer and more effective strategy than testosterone therapy. Talk to your doctor, who can guide you toward the right treatment path.
Where can I be tested for low-T?
A qualified healthcare professional can help you find the most appropriate solutions for low-T. Going to a low-T clinic may not be the best way to evaluate testosterone levels in the context of your total health. Clinics that measure only total testosterone may miss more targeted values, such as your bioavailable (also called unbound or free) testosterone levels.
A common critique of low-T clinics is that they overtreat and recommend over-the-counter supplements that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Low-T clinics may fail to address the underlying causes of a testosterone deficiency, potentially doing more harm than good by prescribing synthetic testosterone too quickly.
Discussing concerns about low-T with your doctor is an excellent place to start. Ultimately, a board-certified urologist or an experienced male infertility specialist would be well-qualified to address low-T.
What are the tests for low-T?
Several factors should be considered before a low-T diagnosis is made, starting with a thorough review of your medical history and symptoms. Talk to your doctor about any recent changes in your libido, energy levels and lifestyle. If you have specific concerns about your fertility or sleeping habits, your doctor can recommend treatment options to directly address those issues.
Once you've completed a physical exam and consultation, you'll need to complete at least two blood tests to measure your testosterone levels. Your levels can change throughout the day, so doing multiple blood tests provides a more accurate picture of your usual testosterone count. Since testosterone is usually highest in the morning, most doctors will advise getting your levels checked early in the day.
The two main types of blood tests measure total testosterone and free testosterone. A phlebotomist will draw your blood and send it to a lab for testing. Unless advised otherwise, you shouldn't need to fast or do any specific preparation before your testosterone test.
What qualifies as a low-T diagnosis?
It's possible to test low for testosterone without noticing any symptoms. A low-T diagnosis can be made based on lab test results, physical signs or both. The numbers on your testosterone blood test are not the end of the story. Given the potential variability in results for different days and times, you shouldn't jump to conclusions after your first lab test.
Your doctor will consider the impact to your health and quality of life and weigh the potential costs and benefits of treatment before recommending the next steps. If they recommend testosterone therapy, you can consider various treatment methods, including gels, tablets, injections or patches. Continued monitoring is essential to make sure your body responds well to testosterone treatment and you aren't developing adverse side effects.
With reduced testosterone levels seen in more than 33 percent of men older than 45, you aren't alone in the quest for more information. Talk to your doctor, consider getting a blood test and then decide whether treatment might be able to give you a boost.