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Androgen replacement therapy is typically used as a treatment for andropause, a condition that occurs in men as testosterone levels drop with age. Most men begin to experience a slight reduction of testosterone levels around age 30, and may develop symptoms consistent with those of andropause by the age of 40. Symptoms of andropause can include erectile dysfunction, weight gain, lowered sex drive, irritability, depression, fatigue, and hair loss. Androgen replacement therapy can also be used to treat other conditions responsible for lowered testosterone levels, such as damage to the testicular organs, cancer, and a range of other serious conditions. The treatment can have side effects, and may not be appropriate for some patients.
Multiple methods commonly are used to conduct androgen replacement therapy. The hormones may be smeared onto the skin in gel form, usually on the upper body. Care is typically advised with this method, since the gel should not generally be allowed to rub off onto others. Androgen replacement therapy can be done by injecting male hormones into the muscles, which must usually be done at least every three weeks. This type of therapy may cause drastic swings in hormone levels.
Skin patches are also used in androgen replacement therapy. These adhesive patches, usually applied to the abdomen, arms, buttocks or back, release hormones into the skin. They can cause discomfort in some men.
The side effects of androgen replacement therapy can include enlargement of breast tissue, acne, prostate enlargement, shrinking of the testicles, aggressive feelings, and severe mood swings. Fluid retention and sleep apnea can also occur. Red blood cell counts may rise, and sperm counts may be lowered. Levels of blood cholesterol may be altered by this type of therapy.
The treatment can, however, relieve many of the symptoms of lowered testosterone levels, including depression, fatigue, and cognitive problems. Men suffering from erectile dysfunction as a result of lowered testosterone levels may also experience relief from this condition. Androgen replacement therapy can cause enlargement of the prostate, so it is not generally advised for men suffering from enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Men with breast cancer are also usually discourage from undergoing this type of hormone therapy. The replacement hormones used in androgen replacement therapy could cause the rapid advancement of prostate and breast cancers.