Testosterone Replacement Therapy
Testosterone is a hormone produced by the testicles and is responsible for the proper development of male sexual characteristics. Testosterone also regulates the expansion of arteries, promotes the circulation of blood, and is responsible for the maintenance of muscle bulk.
Without adequate production of testosterone, erectile dysfunction, among other problems, can develop. Testosterone replacement therapy may improve erectile dysfunction and other consequences of low testosterone production.
What Causes Testosterone Deficiency?
As a man ages, the amount of testosterone in his body gradually declines. This natural decline starts after age 30 and continues throughout life. Other causes of lowered testosterone levels include:
• Injury or infection to the testicles
• Chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer
• Hemochromatosis (too much iron in the blood)
• Dysfunction of the pituitary gland (a gland in the brain that produces many important hormones)
• Inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis (a condition that causes inflammation of the lungs)
• Medications, especially those used to treat depression or mental illness and heartburn
• Chronic illness
What Are the Symptoms of Testosterone Deficiency?
Without adequate testosterone a man may lose his sex drive, have weakened brain and intellectual activity, and may often feel moody. Low levels of testosterone may also result in an increase in stomach and upper body fat, a decline in the amount of muscle in the body, as well as a decline in strength. Bone thinning osteoporosis may also result from low testosterone levels. Other symptoms of lowered testosterone levels include:
• Erectile dysfunction
• High cholesterol levels
• Depressed mood
• Problems with concentration and memory
How Do I Find Out if I Have a Testosterone Deficiency?
The only accurate way to detect the condition is to have your doctor measure the amount of testosterone in your blood.
How Can I Increase My Testosterone Level?
If you have low testosterone, your doctor can prescribe testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Testosterone is available in pill form, patches, injections, or it can be implanted under the skin.
Absorbing testosterone through the skin via a patch or gel, or receiving an intramuscular injection is the best method of delivering TRT. Testosterone in an oral form is not absorbed very well by the body and may increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart and liver problems.
Testosterone injections are generally administered every two weeks and can be given either by your doctor or you can learn to give them yourself or teach a family member to give them. Aside from needing to receive a shot every two weeks, the other drawback to injections is that relief from symptoms of low testosterone may be irregular in between shots.
Skin patches effectively deliver testosterone consistently into the body. Depending on the product, these patches can be applied to the scrotum, the buttocks, the arms, or the back. Many men experience mild skin irritation in response to these patches, however the irritation is only rarely severe.
Talk to your doctor to determine if TRT is right for you and which mode of delivery would be best.
Who Shouldn’t Take Testosterone Replacement Therapy?
Testosterone replacement therapy can increase cholesterol levels. It can also increase the size of the prostate and if early prostate cancer is present, it can stimulate the cancer’s growth. Thus, TRT may not be right for men who have high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors or prostate cancer or are at risk for prostate cancer. It is important for all men considering TRT to undergo a thorough prostate cancer screening prior to starting this therapy.
What Are the Side Effects of TRT?
As long as the amount of testosterone given elevates the blood levels to within the normal range, side effects are rare.
The following symptoms may indicate that you are receiving too much testosterone and should be brought to your doctor’s attention:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Swelling of the ankles
• Noticeably increased appetite
• Breast enlargement
Like any other medication, directions for administering testosterone should be followed exactly as your doctor has ordered. If you are unsure or have any questions about TRT, ask your doctor.