When women age they go through a process called menopause, where the body slowly reduces the production of the sex hormones. In women this means they no longer release eggs, and can no longer have children.
Men go through a similar process, known as andropause, or male menopause, where testosterone levels slowly decline. The main difference between men and women is that the male version is not as clearly recognizable.
Male vs. Female Menopause
Menopause in Women
Women generally start going through menopause in their late 40s or early 50s, and the process can last for several years as hormone levels slowly decline. During this period women experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, mood swings, and changes in libido, among other symptoms. The most noticeable change in women in the cessation of her menstrual cycle. Once a woman has gone a year without having a period, she is considered officially in menopause.
Andropause in Men
Andropause can start around the a man is in his late 40s or early 50s, the same age as menopause generally starts in women, but because men do not have a monthly cycle, the symptoms might not be as obvious.
As testosterone levels drop, a man can experience fatigue, depression, loss of libido, and sexual dysfunction. Men may also notice weight gain, or changes in the way fat collects on their bodies. Lower testosterone levels can also affect fertility because the body uses testosterone to make sperm.
However, many of these symptoms can also be present with other conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. This fact, coupled with the absence of a monthly cycle as a helpful gauge, is why it is so difficult to recognize the signs of andropause, or "the change" in men.
Diagnosing andropause if fairly easy; it’s a simple blood test for testosterone levels. The hard part is in getting the blood test in the first place. As we’ve stated before, the symptoms of andropause can mimic a lot of other illnesses and your doctor might test to rule out those conditions, before ordering a testosterone test.
However, if you are working with a fertility doctor to determine why you and your partner cannot conceive, a testosterone test might be a routine part of the process.
In any case, once your doctor examine you, takes note of your symptoms, and gets any test results, he should be able to make the diagnosis.
Treating Andropause and Sperm Production
Andropause is a normal part of the aging process, and there isn't really a cure, per se. Some older men who wish to have children may undergo a sperm retrieval procedure. Others may be prescribed testosterone replacement therapy, to help slow or delay the aging process that causes lowered sperm production. Testosterone replacement therapy can restore your sex drive and relieve the depression and fatigue usually associated with andropause.
When a man enters andropause, his sperm production decreases. Testosterone replacement therapy could help improve sperm production, and thereby help improve male fertility, at least temporarily. Because testosterone replacement therapy is only temporary, once you stop taking the medication, your sperm production levels will continue to decline.
Testosterone replacement also has certain risks and side effects, including an increased risk for prostate or male breast cancer and blood clots.
If you are concerned that you may be entering andropause, consult your physician or urologist for more information.