Androgens are a group of male sex hormones responsible for sexual and reproductive functions as well as the development of physical characteristics specific to men, such as the pattern of hair growth, voice, musculature and bone development. Androgen deficiency or hypogonadism is a condition characterized by low levels of androgens in the body.
The primary androgen is testosterone. The production of this hormone by the testicles is controlled by the pituitary gland, which in turn is controlled by the hypothalamus in your brain. A deficiency of testosterone may occur as part of the aging process or due to poor general health, obesity, testicular abnormalities, complications of mumps, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or tumors of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
Androgen deficiency may produce the following symptoms:
- Reduced sexual desire
- Weak erections
- Reduced semen production
- Breast development
- Reduced strength and musculature
- Bone deficiency
- Sweating and hot flushes
- Lethargy and fatigue
When you present to the clinic, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination. Your doctor will order a semen analysis and blood tests to check for levels of testosterone, pituitary hormones and iron, and the presence of any genetic abnormalities. Imaging studies of the brain are ordered to examine the pituitary gland. Your doctor will also examine your prostate before initiating therapy.
Your doctor may suggest methods to treat the underlying cause of androgen deficiency. Androgen replacement therapy is the primary treatment for androgen deficiency. Depending on the cause of deficiency, testosterone or pituitary hormones regulating the release of testosterone may be administered orally, through intramuscular injections, skin patches, gels or creams.