The question: I've heard people use the term male menopause. Does it actually exist and if so, what are the symptoms?
The answer: Male menopause is a popular term used describe the collection of symptoms that men may experience when their levels of testosterone decrease. In medical terms, this is referred to as testosterone deficiency syndrome or andropause. In contrast to female menopause where there is a dramatic drop in hormones over a short period of time, the changes in men occur gradually over many years. As a result, the symptoms may be subtle and can go unnoticed for many years.
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone but contrary to popular belief, it does much more than regulate sex drive and function. Symptoms of low testosterone can include loss of muscle mass, lower bone density (increased risk of osteoporosis), fatigue, lower energy and a decreased interest in sex.
It is important to note that these symptoms can also be due to depression, medications, stress or thyroid problems that need to be ruled out before confirming a diagnosis of testosterone deficiency.
The amount of testosterone in each individual male varies based on their age, race and other health conditions. After 30, testosterone levels gradually decrease by about 1 per cent a year. About 25 per cent of Canadian men aged 40 to 62 have low testosterone levels. Despite this high number, not all men will have symptoms.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, speak to your doctor about getting tested to rule out not only low testosterone but other potential causes. When testing your testosterone levels, it is best to do so in the morning hours for the most accurate results.
For men who have andropause and are experiencing symptoms that are affecting their quality of life, treatment can be considered. Prior to starting any testosterone replacement therapy, a thorough discussion of the risks and benefits must be done. This treatment has the potential to increase risk of cancer of the breast and prostate gland and can affect cardiovascular health. In order to assure safety, test for prostate health with a blood and a digital rectal exam prior to starting treatment and then monitor your health during therapy. Treatment does not work for everyone, if your symptoms do not improve, the replacement should be stopped.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.
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