If you're feeling tired and irritable — and not as interested in sex as you used to be — you may have low testosterone. Get the facts.

Feeling tired, irritable, and not as interested in sex as you used to be? You may be suffering from low testosterone.

Testosterone is the male hormone made in the testicles. Low testosterone occurs more often in older men, but younger men can have the condition.

The only way to find out if you have normal testosterone is to get a blood test.

What Does Testosterone Do?

Testosterone jump-starts puberty. Testosterone triggers male features like facial hair, a deepening voice, and muscle strength. Men need testosterone to make sperm.

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What Is Normal Testosterone by Age?

The amount of testosterone in the bloodstream increases during adolescence and peaks in a man’s twenties.

By age 30 or 35, testosterone levels decrease by about 1% each year. This gradual drop is a normal part of aging. By age 80, half of all men have low testosterone, according to the Urology Care Foundation.

But testosterone levels can fluctuate daily, and even change from hour to hour. They are highest in the morning, which is why doctors run blood tests for the hormone between 7 and 10 a.m.

Low testosterone in younger men

If a man in his thirties or forties has low testosterone, it may be the result of other health problems. Some conditions and factors the contribute to low testosterone are:

  • Alcoholism.
  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.
  • Hormone disorders.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
  • Taking narcotic pain medicines (now one of the most common factors contributing to low testosterone in young men).

What Are the Symptoms of Low Testosterone?

When your body doesn’t make enough testosterone, it affects more than just your sex drive. You may notice other changes in your body. You may:

  • Feel tired all the time.
  • Lose muscle mass.
  • Lose bone mass.
  • Suffer from hair loss.
  • Have enlarged or tender breasts.
  • Suffer from erectile dysfunction.
  • Have low energy.
  • Experience fertility problems because of low sperm count.

Your doctor can order a blood test to determine your testosterone levels. Some of the symptoms of low testosterone are general and may have another cause.

Can You Treat Low Testosterone?

If you think you may have low testosterone, talk to your doctor. The symptoms of low testosterone are like those of many other conditions. You may have normal testosterone but have another health problem.

Remember, your testosterone levels gradually decrease as you get older. It’s a normal part of aging. However, there are ways to boost your testosterone at any age.

Lifestyle changes

Making healthy lifestyle choices is the first and most important step to boost testosterone. Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Eat a diet rich in lean proteins, eggs, colorful fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Add more exercise to your daily routine.
  • Lose weight.
  • Improve your sleep habits.
  • Cut down on or eliminate alcohol, soft drinks, refined sugars, and fast food.
  • Quit smoking.

Testosterone hormone therapy

You may have seen ads for products that claim to boost testosterone. However, it’s always best to see a doctor and get a test to see if your testosterone levels are normal. If your testosterone levels are low, your doctor may prescribe a medical-grade testosterone replacement.

Doctors may prescribe testosterone therapy if:

  • You have low levels of the hormone. They usually don’t recommend it for men who have normal testosterone levels.
  • Your testicles get injured.
  • Your testicles are surgically removed (e.g., from cancer).

Your doctor may give you testosterone therapy in the form of:

  • Gels
  • Creams
  • Skin patches
  • Pills
  • Injections

If you have a normal age-related drop in testosterone, your doctor may not recommend testosterone therapy. The possible side effects of the therapy often outweigh the benefits.

Side effects of testosterone therapy

Your doctor will explain the potential side effects of testosterone therapy. They include:

  • Accelerated growth of existing prostate cancer.
  • Acne.
  • Breast growth.
  • Growth of benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate).
  • Heart problems.
  • Reduced sperm production.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Testicle shrinkage.

Your doctor should always test your testosterone levels before beginning any therapy.

Urology Care Foundation, What Is Low Testosterone? Link

Harvard Health Publishing, Testosterone — What It Does and Doesn't Do, Link

National Institutes of Health, Understanding How Testosterone Affects Men, Link

Hormone Health Network, Testosterone and Androgens, Link

Hormone Health Network, What Does Testosterone Do? Link

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Testosterone Levels Test, Link

About Men’s Health Center

The UPMC Men’s Health Center evaluates and treats conditions affecting men’s sexual and reproductive health. With years of clinical experience in male sexual medicine and surgery, our team has treated a wide variety of conditions and performed thousands of surgeries. We are dedicated to providing patients the highest level of quality care. Our providers understand the intimate nature of male sexual difficulties, and we will work to help you restore your normal level of sexual function in a comfortable, educational, and discreet environment.