Male Menopause, is it a thing?
Male Menopause. Is there such a thing? As with females, males too can experience age-related changes in male hormone levels, (this is often referred to as the male menopause or andropause) and these hormonal changes can affect both physical and mental wellbeing.
For example some men, during their late 40 to early 50s might find themselves experiencing depression, loss of sex drive, or other physical and emotional symptoms.
Hormone changes are a natural part of ageing. Unlike the more dramatic reproductive hormone plunge that occurs in women during menopause, hormone changes in men occur gradually.
In this article we’re going to take a closer look at what the ‘male menopause’ is all about.
Let’s start with the science.
Our hormone levels, regardless of gender, change across the span of our lives. In women, ovulation ends and hormone production plummets during a relatively short period of time (menopause). In men, production of testosterone and other hormones declines more slowly, over a period of many years.
Most (but not all) males will experience a gradual change in hormonal levels as they age. The most common ‘change’ is a decline in the production of testosterone.
For men, this rate of decline tends to be gradual – a less than 2% drop per year. This decline can start anytime around the age of 30 to 40.
To understand why this gradual drop in hormone level is important, let’s take a quick look at testosterone and what function it plays in overall health.
If you’re a man, testosterone is a hormone that is produced in your testes, and it fuels the changes you’d typically see during puberty, (such as growth of body hair, deepening of the voice and increased muscle mass). It also regulates your mental and physical energy, and your fight-or-flight response.
Before men hit puberty, their testosterone levels are low, the levels increase as they mature, and then decline again from 30 yrs onwards.
It’s this decline in testosterone levels that is often referred to as the ‘male menopause’.
What are the symptoms?
A decline in testosterone can cause physical, psychological and sexual symptoms, including:
- Depression and Low self-confidence
- Insomnia or changing sleep patterns
- Decreased motivation and energy
- Difficulty concentrating short-term memory
- Mood swings and irritability
- Developing a large belly or “man boobs” (gynaecomastia)
- Reduced muscle mass and feelings of weakness
- Decreased bone density
- Reduced testicle size
- Erectile dysfunction
- Reduced libido
A blood test can be used to diagnose a low or reduced testosterone level. Some men have a lower than normal testosterone level without signs or symptoms.
Could anything else be causing these symptoms?
At this point, we need to through in a curve ball. The NHS says that
‘Lifestyle factors’ or ‘Psychological problems’ can often be responsible for many of the above symptoms too. Underlying factors other than low testosterone, (including medication side effects, thyroid problems, depression and excessive alcohol use) could cause these symptoms too.
For example mood swings, erectile dysfunction, and loss of sex drive may be the result of non-hormone related stress, depression or anxiety.
Psychological problems are typically brought on by work or relationship issues, divorce, money problems or worrying about ageing parents.
And anxieties in your working or personal life, a sense of ‘is my life half way over already?” (typified as a ‘midlife crisis’) can lead to a period of depression.
In some cases, where lifestyle or psychological problems do not seem to be responsible, the symptoms of the ‘male menopause’ may be the result of hypogonadism. (This is where the testes produce few or no hormones).
Hypogonadism can occasionally develop later in life, particularly in men who are obese or have type 2 diabetes. This is known as late-onset hypogonadism and can cause many of the ‘male menopause’ symptoms.
Its important to note this is an uncommon and specific medical condition that’s not a normal part of ageing and a diagnosis of late-onset hypogonadism can usually be made based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests used to measure your testosterone levels).
Finally, the NHS also list other possible causes of the ‘male menopause symptoms’ as:
- Lack of sleep
- A poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Drinking too much alcohol
How can you manage your symptoms?
Unless theses symptoms are severely disrupting your life, its probable you can manage them without treatment.
You can’t boost your natural testosterone production, but these steps might help:
Make healthy lifestyle choices.
Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing gets so much more important as you age. No longer can you burn the candle at both ends.
The bottom line is you just need to start making healthier choices:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get regular exercise
- Get enough sleep
- Find ways to relax
Seek help if you feel down.
If these symptoms are interfering with everyday life and happiness, it’s important to find the underlying causes, and work out what can be done to resolve them.
You need to talk to your GP or health care professional about your symptoms.
Be honest with your doctor.
Work with your doctor to identify and treat any health issues that might be causing or contributing to your signs and symptoms.
This can be daunting, as it can be intimidating to discuss sexual topics with your doctor. It can feel these are somehow embarrassing or shameful.
As a medical professional, they’ve probably heard it all, and they won’t be judging you. They’ve got your best interested at heart.
They’ll work to find the root cause of your symptoms, by asking about your work and personal life to see if your symptoms could be caused by a mental health issue, such as stress or anxiety, and work together with you to decide the best course of action.
So that’s it, a whistle stop tour of the male menopause. It’s clear there are a range of symptoms that occur in the midlife for men. Its important to work out the cause of these (hormones, medical, lifestyle, psychological?)
You’re not alone in having these symptoms so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
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