Testosterone is a primary male sex hormone that plays a vital role in bodily functions. It is thought to regulate sex drive, bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass, and strength, and also affects the production of red blood cells and sperm.
Signs and symptoms of low testosterone can include a change in sleep patterns, insomnia, and in the later stages can cause night sweats. Low levels may also result in physical changes such as increased body fat and reduced muscle bulk. Men with low testosterone (LT), may also experience reduced sexual desire and sexual dysfunction. There is often an emotional impact too as some report feelings of decreased motivation, depression and relationship issues.
These symptoms can be quite distressing and one has only to google the symptoms to come across a plethora of testosterone testing kits. The home test kits make the promise of quick and discreet results to diagnose whether you are suffering from LT, all from the comfort of your own home with just a prick of blood from your finger. But can a home testosterone kit accurately diagnose the condition or should you seek advice and testing from your GP instead?
Home kit testosterone test
The home test kits require a prick of the finger which produces a very small sample of blood, in contrast, your GP will take a sample of blood from a vein (a venous sample). As the finger prick is only a tiny sample there is no contingency plan for any quality control, test confirmation or further testing. This is why laboratories prefer a larger, venous sample taken by a doctor as often the test has to be repeated for efficacy and accuracy as there are many variables that have to be considered to gain the most accurate result.
Worryingly, there are no independent studies to indicate which is the best and most precise test on the market. Therefore, if you are worried enough to buy the test, why not go straight to a professional who has spent at least six years at medical school honing their skills to gain an accurate result? Whilst the internet is a great source of information for research, self-diagnosis via doctor Google is not a valid replacement for a real GP. For instance, you would not ask the Spice Girls to rewire your house because they once turned on the Oxford Street Christmas lights!
In short, if you have researched your symptoms and suspect you have low testosterone but a home kit gives you a reading that is average and you decide to ‘man up’ and ignore the symptoms, you could potentially be ignoring something much more serious. Low testosterone symptoms often mimic other more serious things such as cancer or auto-immune diseases which are treatable if caught early. Some cancers such as male breast cancer, although rare, can affect hormone levels, so if you experience any of the symptoms of low testosterone then go and see your GP as soon as possible.
Furthermore, self-diagnosis can also cause a nocebo, which is the opposite of a placebo. A nocebo can have a detrimental effect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors. Negative attitudes and feelings may create chronic stress, which in turn can upset the body’s hormone balance, this can cause depletion of the brain chemicals required to experience happiness, and can damage the immune system.
The take-home message is that if you are very lucky you may have an accurate result and the home test works well the first time. However, you will still need to have the test repeated with a venous sample by your GP if the result is lower than average. Because low testosterone can be a symptom of other, much more sinister disorders, if you suspect you have the condition then it is imperative to seek medical advice from a trained professional. Your doctor will examine all of the evidence and offer a comprehensive set of tests to get an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the best course of treatment for you.