Male late-onset hypogonadism: pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment

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Some aging men develop a condition of suppressed serum testosterone levels, which is associated with diffuse sexual, physical and psychological symptoms. Several terms are used for this syndrome, but lateonset hypogonadism (LOH) is preferred. The diagnosis of LOH is often uncertain because symptoms (occurring in 20-40% of men) and low circulating testosterone (found in 20% of men >70 years of age) seldom occur together. The strict diagnostic criteria for LOH include reproducibly low serum testosterone levels and sexual symptoms, including erectile dysfunction and reduced frequency of sexual thoughts and morning erections. Using these diagnostic criteria, only 2% of 40-80-year-old men have LOH. Obesity and impaired general health (including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and frailty) are more common reasons for low testosterone than advanced age perse. It seems logical, therefore, to begin by treating these conditions before testosterone replacement therapy is initiated. Even then, testosterone should only be used if there are no contraindications, such as unstable cardiac disease, serious prostate symptoms and high hemoglobin level. The long-term benefit of testosterone replacement therapy is uncertain, and the experimental nature of the treatment, and its associated risks, must be fully explained to the patient before treatment begins.

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