Frequently, when we talk about menopause, we are referring to the stage of a woman’s life when her body stops menstruating and her estrogen levels decrease dramatically. However, both men and women may experience dramatic hormonal changes as they age, and male menopause, known as andropause, is the term used to describe these age-related hormonal changes in men.
More and more doctors are recognizing a hormonal shift that occurs in many aging men. As they age, most men experience decreased testosterone levels. Through researching this hormonal change, doctors are also discovering new ways to treat the symptoms associated with this drop in testosterone levels.
What Is Male Menopause?
Testosterone is the male hormone that affects sexual function as well as energy, muscle mass and physical stamina. This hormone is produced in the testes. During male adolescence, testosterone levels elevate in order to allow the male body to undergo puberty.
After the age of 30, a man’s level of testosterone typically decreases by about 1% each year. While female menopause happens relatively quickly (typically over the course of a couple of years), a man’s testosterone levels decrease at a much more gradual rate. However, there are symptoms that many men may experience as the result of this decrease in testosterone that are similar to the symptoms that women experience during menopause.
Similarities and Differences to Menopause
In female menopause, a woman’s menstrual cycle completely ceases as the result of dramatic hormonal changes. For a man, however, their body does not abruptly cease the production of sperm. Rather, men can continue to produce sperm well into their elderly years despite decreased levels of testosterone. While all women will definitely experience menopause in their lifetime, not all men experience significantly decreased testosterone levels as they age. The majority of men who seek out treatment for the symptoms associated with decreased testosterone levels are age 50 and older.
What Are the Symptoms?
As the levels of testosterone decrease, a man may experience the following:
- Decreased muscle mass
- Physical weakness
- Sexual problems
- Loss of body hair
- Sleep disorders
- Hot flashes
It should be noted that these symptoms may also be associated with other health problems that are not related to a decrease in testosterone, such as thyroid problems and alcohol abuse. If you experience the symptoms listed above, it’s best to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
How Is Male Menopause Diagnosed?
Testing testosterone levels is a fairly simple process that can be performed by your general practitioner. It requires a physical exam, a detailed discussion of the symptoms and a blood test that will measure the levels of testosterone in the body. Your doctor will most likely perform other tests as well to rule out any other possible medical problems.
What Are the Treatment Options?
If you are experiencing certain symptoms associated with decreased testosterone levels such as mood disorders, difficulty sleeping or sexual problems, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes. For instance, changes to diet and the introduction of regular exercise to a man’s daily routine can dramatically lower the negative side effects of lowered testosterone levels as well as improve overall health.
For men whose testosterone levels are especially low or whose symptoms are more severe, doctors may recommend testosterone replacement therapy. Like hormone replacement therapy for women who are experiencing menopause, this technique can be effective in decreasing the symptoms associated with hormonal changes. However, there are potential risks and side effects involved, including a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. Some studies also show a link between testosterone replacement therapy and an increased risk of heart failure.
For men who are experiencing mood disorders such as depression as the result of decreased testosterone levels, your doctor may recommend prescription anti-depressants.
If you are a man who is experiencing the symptoms of decreased testosterone levels, talk with your doctor about what you are experiencing. There are several ways to treat the symptoms of decreased testosterone levels.