You might have heard the term ‘male menopause’ before, but is it a real thing?
You’ve heard the term ‘menopause’ before, but you might not have heard it associated with men. Like all words associated with aging, it’s not usually high on people’s list of conversation topics.
Having said that, it’s an uncomfortable reality that there are a number of health issues that can affect men in their late 30s and 40s. These are sometimes grouped together under the term ‘male menopause’.
But what exactly does this mean, and how do you know when it’s time to talk to a doctor? Before we get into that, we need to deal with the most important question.
Is Male Menopause a Real Thing?
While the symptoms associated with male menopause are certainly real, the existence of the condition itself is still the subject of medical debate.
The most commonly cited cause of the male menopause is a condition known as Andropause, which supposedly sees a man’s testosterone levels drop below the ‘normal’ level.
It’s certainly true that the amount of testosterone you produce gradually reduces over time. Your testosterone level actually peaks as early as your 20s, and on average it will decrease by 1% each year once you reach your 30s.
This is perfectly natural and will not necessarily cause any problems on its own. Different men are affected in different ways by a dip in their testosterone. In fact, many medical experts reject comparisons between Andropause and the female menopause, as women generally experience a much quicker drop in oestrogen than men do with testosterone.
In other words, the question of whether the male menopause is real is not one that science currently has an answer for. What we can say is this. There are many symptoms commonly associated with the male menopause. Some of these are physical, some are psychological.
None should be ignored.
Symptoms Associated with Male Menopause
We’ve listed some of these symptoms below, along with some of the possible causes. Of course, no two men are the same, so if you are experiencing any symptoms that are particularly concerning, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Appearance of body fat
You might find it becomes more difficult to manage your body shape as you get older. Some men notice an increase in fat around their stomach area, while the infamous ‘man boobs’ may also make an appearance.
Possible causes include:
- Poor diet
- High alcohol intake
- Lack of exercise
While younger men might be lucky enough to find lifestyle choices such as this don’t affect their outward appearance, the slowing of your metabolism as you get older means weight management can become more difficult.
Consulting a doctor can help you make necessary changes to your diet and lifestyle that can help keep this issue under control.
Decrease in muscle mass
This is a symptom that can actually be attributed to a gradual drop in testosterone. It’s one of a number of potential reasons cited for the condition known as sarcopenia - a loss of muscle as the body ages.
Lack of exercise could be a cause here; it won’t surprise you to know that a good workout is one way to build muscle. Not getting enough protein in your diet is another possible contributing factor in your loss of muscle mass.
Assessing the situation with a doctor will help you pinpoint where you can make small changes that could address or at least slow down this change.
Hot flushes and sweating
Perhaps the most notorious symptom associated with menopause is the hot flush. It appears men do not escape this unwelcome feeling, which involves a sudden burst of intense and unexplained heat that can make you sweat more than usual.
While natural hormonal changes are a potential cause of male hot flushes, other possibilities include certain types of cancer treatment and lifestyle choices.
Some medical guidance suggests cutting down on things such as coffee, nicotine and alcohol to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a hot flush. As with all of the symptoms we’ve talked about, every man’s experience is different, so discussing your specific circumstances with a doctor will help you form a strategy for managing hot flushes.
Depression and other psychological issues
While the concept of a ‘mid-life crisis’ is sometimes mocked, it’s quite genuine. It’s only natural to analyse your life when you hit the perceived ‘halfway’ point.
If you find yourself unsatisfied with how things are going, this can lead to psychological issues that are all too easy to dismiss as ‘male menopause’.
You can be affected in many different ways. Depression is the most obvious mental issue you might face. If you aren’t happy with your life, you may feel hopeless or think there is no chance things will change. These thoughts should not be taken lightly, particularly if you feel this way over a long period of time.
You might also:
- Experience mood swings
- Feel irritable for no obvious reason
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Suffer from short term memory loss
- Feel tired or low on energy
Talking about these issues is a challenge faced by people of all ages. What you’ll find is that when you do, there will be plenty of people only too keen to help. Your doctor will be one of them.
There are plenty of practical next steps they can offer, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), in which you learn to manage the thoughts you have when you’re feeling low. This is one of many lifestyle changes you can make to help combat psychological problems.
The important thing to remember is that there are solutions available. You just have to work with a doctor to find the one that works for you.
Reduced sex drive and erectile problems
Arguably one of the most sensitive topics of conversation when it comes to the male menopause is a drop in your sex drive. This is especially true among men who experience physical symptoms such as erectile difficulties. Understandably, it’s not really a subject guys like to talk about.
It’s thought that up to 1 in 5 men will experience a drop in their sex drive at some time in their lives. You should only really be concerned if this has occurred suddenly and you find your libido is taking its time returning.
A decrease in testosterone is cited as a contributing factor in some of these cases, while it can just as easily be a by-product of the psychological issues discussed above. If you are worried or distracted, it can lead to problems with your sex drive, and your anxiety is unlikely to go away if these issues begin to affect your relationship.
As difficult as it may seem, talking confidentially to a doctor is the best step you can take to address these issues. They will approach the subject sensitively and will not judge you. They will simply speak to you about your circumstances and discuss practical ways to deal with the problem.
What should you do next?
Hopefully it’s clear by now that whatever symptoms you are experiencing, speaking to a doctor should be your first port of call.
If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms but don’t feel any of the causes apply to you, it’s possible that you do have ‘low’ testosterone. Your doctor may recommend a blood test to determine your testosterone levels, after which you may be offered some form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
However, like all medical treatments, HRT isn’t without risks, so you should discuss it with your doctor first and see if it’s right for you.