Testosterone is a male hormone synthesized in the testicles. It is primarily engaged in development of sexual characteristics in men. Furthermore, the hormone is necessary for maintaining muscle mass, production of erythrocytes (red blood cells) and maintaining bone density.
Causes and Symptoms of Testosterone Deficiency
It is normal for elderly men to have lower level of testosterone. The level of testosterone gradually decreases with the process of aging. Apart from physiological decrease in testosterone production the level of the hormone may change due to several more causes. In some cases low testosterone level is associated with testicle injury or infection, genetic abnormalities (Klinefelter's syndrome), hemochromatosis, inadequate function of the pituitary gland and some chronic illnesses such as AIDS, liver cirrhosis or chronic renal failure. The level of testosterone may also decrease after chemotherapy or radiation therapy or develop as a side effect of certain medications (e.g. hormone analogues used for prostate cancer and steroids).
Insufficient amount of testosterone is connected with decreased sex drive, changes in mood and decreased sense of well-being. There are also problems with concentration and memory and some men develop erectile dysfunction. Lack of testosterone leads to a decrease in muscle mass and increase in body fat, changes in cholesterol metabolism, insufficient amount of hemoglobin and subsequent anemia, osteoporosis and loss of body hair.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
Testosterone replacement therapy is available in several forms, as intramuscular injections, testosterone patches and testosterone gels. Therapy with testosterone injections is repeated every 2-3 weeks. Testosterone patches are used every day and finally, testosterone gels are applied daily usually to the shoulders, upper arms or the abdomen.
Each of the previously mentioned methods provides with optimal amount of the hormone. On the other hand, each of them also has certain side effects. For example, injections can cause pain and are associated with wide swings in hormone concentration. Testosterone body patches may cause skin irritation. The irritation can be quite severe and certain number of men need to quit with this form of treatment. And finally, application of gels may cause accidental transfer of the gel during close body contact with other people.
Patients who undergo testosterone replacement treatment may suffer from oily skin or even develop acne. There is also chance of mild to moderate fluid retention. Men suffering from sleep apnea may experience worsening of the condition. Two more side effects include breast enlargement and decrease in the size of testicles. The doctor decides the most convenient testosterone replacement therapy for each patient.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy Contraindications
This treatment may stimulate enlargement of the prostate. This is why it is contraindicated in men suffering from prostate cancer. It is also important to exclude possibility of prostate cancer with suitable test and exams prior the beginning of treatment.