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What Are the Common Causes of Elevated DHEA Levels?

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  • Written By: Kathleen Howard
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 12 April 2014
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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone, released by the adrenal gland, used in the manufacture of androgens, estrogens and other hormones in both men and women. Common causes of elevated DHEA levels include stress, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hyperinsulinemia and androgen-secreting tumors (ASTs). People who choose to take DHEA supplements might also raise their DHEA levels above the normal range. While this hormone has certain benefits, there are also negative side effects of elevated DHEA levels, including heart palpitations, weight gain and hair loss. People who believe their DHEA levels might be high should visit a physician to undergo testing and receive any necessary treatment.

The purpose of DHEA is to serve as a precursor to many different hormones. DHEA is used in the manufacture of estrogen, testosterone and adrenaline hormones, among others. Normally, natural DHEA levels decrease after a person reaches about 30 years of age.

One factor that can cause DHEA levels to remain high is stress. Research indicates that people who are under large amounts of stress might experience elevated DHEA levels. During this study, researchers believed the role of DHEA was to help individuals cope and reduce the effects of stress.

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PCOS is another common cause of elevated DHEA levels in women. This condition is most common in women of childbearing age, but can also affect much younger females. While not every woman with PCOS will produce excessive amounts of DHEA, high levels are present in a significant percentage of sufferers. Hyperinsulinemia, which is frequently associated with PCOS, is also believed to be a cause of increased DHEA production. While the link between these conditions is uncertain, some experts believe that hyperinsulinemia might be an underlying cause of both PCOS and high DHEA in some women.

Androgen-secreting tumors can also cause elevated DHEA levels in sufferers. In women, these tumors often develop on the ovaries and adrenal glands. Men can also develop tumors on their adrenal glands. The formation of these tumors can increase the secretion of certain hormones, including DHEA.

In some cases, men and women might purposely increase the amount of DHEA in their body by taking supplements. Studies have found that using DHEA for men might improve erectile dysfunction. Using DHEA for women might be effective in improving vaginal atrophy. In both sexes, using DHEA might improve mood, inhibit aging, and treat certain conditions like osteoporosis, lupus, adrenal insufficiency and obesity. Low DHEA levels have also been linked to HIV, type 2 diabetes and anorexia.

People who believe they might have elevated DHEA levels should consult their physician. There are two types of DHEA tests that are typically used to test patients’ hormone levels: blood tests and saliva tests. After testing DHEA levels, a physician will evaluate the results and determine whether treatment is required. If necessary, the physician might treat the cause of the imbalance or prescribe medication to lower the patient's DHEA levels.

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