We get these questions all the time: “What does low testosterone mean? Is there a specific level that shows I have low testosterone? What is the definition of low testosterone? What does low testosterone mean from a symptomatic standpoint?” You’re probably here because you have the same question yourself.
You don’t ask this question lightly—something is happening in your life (or the life of a loved one) that leads you to believe you or they have low testosterone.
Let’s talk a little bit about what, exactly, it means to have “low testosterone.”
What Does “Low Testosterone” Mean Anyway? What Is Low Testosterone?
Let’s start with the basics.
Testosterone is a hormone found not only in men and women, but also in many different animals in the animal kingdom, and similar compounds (sterols) are even found in plants. Testosterone is generally associated with certain “male” characteristics like aggression or risk-taking behavior, but this an oversimplification of the role of testosterone in the body (male or female).
Testosterone plays a role in many, many different bodily functions, including muscle growth, bone density, and cognitive function.
To answer the question, “what does low testosterone mean?” from a clinical standpoint, it means a level of serum testosterone below 300 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter) or a free testosterone level below 9 ng/dl. However, this only applies to men—levels are different for women.
Without normal levels of testosterone, both men and women can often find themselves with a variety unpleasant symptoms.
What Does Low Testosterone Mean Symptomatically?
Although the symptoms of low testosterone will vary from individual to individual, there are a few symptoms that crop up more often than others.
Here are just a few of the symptoms of low testosterone:
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Weight Problems
- Trouble Concentrating
- Loss of Endurance
- Depressed Mood
- Muscle Weakness & Loss
- Loss of height
These symptoms aren’t just limited to men: women can experience them too.
What Causes Low Testosterone?
The causes for having testosterone levels that are at or below the levels shown above are very wide ranging, and they vary between the sexes. Many of the causes of low testosterone have nothing to do with age but much more to do with life circumstances and environmental exposures.
Here are just some of the causes of low testosterone in men:
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Physical damage to the testicles
- Damage to the testicles from illness or chemotherapy
Obviously, these particular causes are unique to men. Because the mechanism by which women produce testosterone is vastly different from men (men produce the majority of their testosterone in their testes), they very different causes of low testosterone.
Here are just a few of the causes of low testosterone in women:
- Ovary removal
- Ovarian failure due to chemotherapy drugs or other drugs
- Estrogen therapy
- Loss of menstrual periods in a woman before menopause
- Early menopause (before the age of 40)
Finally, some of the causes of low testosterone apply to both sexes:
- Chemical exposures (i.e. BPA, phthalates, phytoestrogens, etc.)
- Down syndrome
- Opiate pain medication use or abuse
- Hypothalamic disease
- Pituitary disease
- Adrenal gland issues
- Type II diabetes
- Sickle cell disease
If any of these apply to you and you’re experiencing the symptoms above, you need to get tested to see if low testosterone is the cause.
What Does Low Testosterone Mean Clinically? A Diagnosis Based On Definitive Guidelines
The Endocrine Society has release definitive, clear-cut guidelines on how to diagnose and treat low testosterone. Generally, low testosterone means serum testosterone levels below 300 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter) or a free testosterone level below 9 ng/dl.
To determine if your testosterone levels are at or below this threshold, we take two blood tests over the course of several days. These tests are taken at a specific time of day recommended by The Endocrine Society.
Once we have your results, we can formulate a treatment plan specific to your needs. Our clinical experience dictates that every client is different—there is no set target that we shoot for.
We treat your symptoms. When you start to feel like yourself again, we’ll know we’ve reached the right level.
To see what your consultation would look like, click below to watch The Virtual Consultation on YouTube.
What Can I Do About Low Testosterone?
To know if low testosterone is at the heart of your symptoms, you need to get tested. Once we’ve determined that you have low testosterone, you can begin treatment, usually within a week.