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Male Hypogonadism:Definition and prevalence



Male Hypogonadism:Definition and prevalence
Male hypogonadism is defined as the failure of the testes to produce androgen, sperm, or both. Although the disorder is exceedingly common, its exact prevalence is uncertain.
Testosterone production declines with advancing age; 20% of men older than 60 years and 30% to 40% of men older than 80 years have serum testosterone levels that would be subnormal in their younger adult male counterparts. This apparent physiologic decline in circulating androgen levels is compounded in frequency by permanent disorders of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis (see later). These include the transient deficiency states associated with acute stressful illnesses, such as surgery and myocardial infarction, and the more chronic deficiency states associated with wasting illnesses, such as cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Male factor infertility is probably responsible for one third of the 10% to 15% of couples who are unable to conceive within 1 year of unprotected intercourse. Most of these male-associated cases result from diminished, absent, or faulty spermatogenesis. In addition to abnormal sperm production, other conditions, including obstructive ductal disease, epididymal hostility, immunologic disorders, and erectile or ejaculatory dysfunction should be considered. Finally, because combined female-male infertility is common, and fertility as well as psychological well-being are ultimate goals, both partners must be assessed from the outset.
Diagnosis

Because of the well-known diurnal rhythm of serum testosterone, which appears to be lost with age (older than 60 years), with values 30% or so higher near 8 AM versus the later day trough, a testosterone value should be determined first thing in the morning. Normal ranges vary among laboratories. Although the usually quoted range for young men is 300 to 1000 ng/dL, the lower limit reported for the Cleveland Clinic is 220 ng/dL. In general, values below 220 to 250 ng/dL are clearly low in most laboratories; values between 250 and 350 ng/dL should be considered borderline low. Because the acute effect of stressful illness may result in a transient lowering of testosterone levels, a confirmatory early morning specimen should be obtained. Measurement of free testosterone levels or bioavailable testosterone levels, determined adequately in select commercial laboratories, may provide additional information (see later, “Pathophysiology”). For example, free testosterone levels may be lower than expected from the total testosterone level as a result of aging and higher than expected in insulin-resistant individuals, such as in obesity. In addition, serum follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and prolactin levels should be determined to help delineate the cause of the testosterone-deficient state.

If gonadotropin levels are not elevated, despite clearly subnormal testosterone values, anterior pituitary (thyroid-adrenal) function should be determined by measuring free thyroxine and thyroid-stimulating hormone levels, as well as an early morning cortisol level. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain and sella should be considered. An exception to this recommendation is the condition of morbid obesity, in which both total and free testosterone levels are typically low and gonadotropin values not elevated. Hyperprolactinemia, even of a small degree, may also warrant ordering MRI, because interference of hypothalamic-pituitary vascular flow by space-occupying, stalk-compressing lesions will lead to disruption of the tonic inhibitory influence of hypothalamic dopamine, and result in modest hyperprolactinemia (20- to 50-ng/mL range).

A semen analysis should be performed when fertility is in question.