Hypogonadism is a condition that causes decreased function of the gonads, which are the testis in males and the ovaries in females, and the production of hormones that play a role in sexual development during puberty. You may be born with the condition or it can develop later in life from injury or infection. Some types of hypogonadism can be treated with hormone replacement therapy.
There are two forms of the condition — primary hypogonadism resulting from problems of the testis or ovary and central hypogonadism caused by problems with the pituitary or hypothalamic glands. Central hypogonadism leads to decreased levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH), released by the pituitary gland.
The condition may have genetic, menopausal autoimmune and viral causes or may develop after cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.
Fasting, weight loss, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, and bulimia, and stressful conditions can cause the condition.
In children before puberty, hypogonadism causes no symptoms. In adolescents, it can delay or prevent exual development.
Adult women with the condition may stop menstruating or develop infertility, loss of libido, vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Prolonged periods of hypogonadism can cause osteoporosis.
Men with the condition may experience loss of libido, erectile dysfunction and infertility.
To diagnose hypogonadism, tests may be performed to check hormone levels — estogren in females and testosterone in males. In addition, levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) will be tested. LH and FSH are pituitary hormones that are stimulated by the gonads.
Other tests may measure thyroid hormones, sperm count and prolactin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland that stimulates breast development and milk production Tests also may be performed to test for anemia and possible genetic causes of symptoms.
For women, your doctor may request a sonogram of your ovaries.
If pituitary disease is suspected, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan may be performed to examine the the pituitary gland.
Hormone replacement therapy has proven to be effective treatment for hypogonadism in men and pre-menopausal women.
Estrogen may be administered in the form of a patch or pill. Testosterone can be given by a patch, a product soaked in by the gums, a gel or by injection.
For women who have not had their uterus removed, a combination of estrogen and progesterone is often recommended to decrease the chance of developing endometrial cancer. Low-dose testosterone may be added for women with hypogonadism who have a low sex drive.
Other hormones may be prescribed to restore fertility in men and women.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.