Andropause: What It Is and How to Treat It

"Male menopause" doesn't always need a fix. Here's how to know if your symptoms are due to changing hormones as you age.

Male Patient Having Consultation With Doctor In Office

Even if you haven’t heard the term “andropause” before, you probably know what it is. That’s because medical marketers use another, more popular term for the condition: “Low-T” or “low testosterone.” Can’t blame them: It sounds far more fun and as if there’s an easy solution.

Essentially, “andropause” is male menopause. It’s not exactly the same thing as menopause, which occurs in females who are, on average, 51 years old. That’s when women go through hormonal changes in which the ovaries stop making estrogen, stopping the menstrual cycle. Men, on the other hand, have a rather gradual decline in testosterone levels that naturally happens with age. After age 40, testosterone levels decrease about 1 to 2 percent every year, according to Harvard Medical School.

Many guys are totally fine as testosterone begins to dip. Others might notice symptoms, like lack of sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, problems sleeping, losing muscle and gaining fat, depression, or memory problems, says the American Urological Association (AUA). They point out that there are so many other explanations for the above symptoms that go beyond lower testosterone levels, so it’s always important to have a very thorough chat with your doctor before assuming you need to be treated. If your sex drive is the issue, check out these natural ways to boost your libido.

Is it andropause?

First, ask yourself if your symptoms might be the result of another problem like poor blood circulation, heart troubles, or even digestive issues. Your doc will want to give you an exam and a blood test. According to the AUA, male menopause—Low-T—is a score of below 300 nanograms of testosterone (per deciliter of blood). Just about 2 percent of men may have what the AUA considers testosterone deficiency. The numbers are low enough that Low-T makes the list of conditions people think they have—but probably don’t.

So you have andropause

If you have diagnosed Low-T and you have some of the symptoms—and they can’t be traced to another condition—then your doc may recommend testosterone therapy to bump up your levels. The delivery methods include via skin patch, topical gel, oral tablets, skin implants, or injections. As Harvard points out, the results are pretty quick: Symptoms begin to subside and you start to feel like more of your vital self again within four to six weeks.

Testosterone may not be the right choice

Unlike the implications in ads for low-T therapy, not all men need to be on testosterone replacement therapy. It’s also a controversial treatment that comes with real risks, like sleep apnea, acne, breast enlargement, decrease in sperm production, and blood clots, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have prostate cancer, the treatment can also fuel cancer growth. That’s why it’s not something to take lightly or be looked at as a quick fix.

Better isn’t always better

“What’s tricky about testosterone is anyone, no matter what their testosterone starts at, will feel better when you put them on testosterone. That doesn’t mean that everybody should be on testosterone and I think that’s a real challenge,” men’s health expert James Hotaling, MD, at the University of Utah, said in an interview with University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Alternatives for andropause

Testosterone isn’t the only solution: It’s key that you stay on top of your health. Men are more likely to have Low-T if they’re overweight or have diabetes. Beyond staying at a healthy weight, you should also get exercise—especially focusing in on strength work to build and maintain muscle—and eat well, two things that can also improve mood problems. Seeing a therapist can also help with anxiety, depression, stress, or anger. If you’re curious about testosterone and male menopause, here are the 10 questions you should ask your doctor.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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Jessica Migala
Jessica Migala is a freelance health and fitness writer with more than a decade experience reporting on wellness trends and research. She's contributed to Health, Men's Health, Family Circle, Woman's Day, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. Jessica lives with her husband and two young sons in the Chicago suburbs.