The laboratory diagnosis of testosterone deficiency
The evaluation and treatment of hypogonadal men has become an important part of urologic practice. Fatigue, loss of libido, and erectile dysfunction are commonly reported, but nonspecific symptoms and laboratory verification of low testosterone (T) are an important part of evaluation in addition to a detailed history and physical examination. Significant intraindividual fluctuations in serum T levels, biologic variation of T action on end organs, the wide range of T levels in human serum samples, and technical limitations of currently available assays have led to poor reliability of T measurements in the clinical laboratory setting. There is no universally accepted threshold of T concentration that distinguishes eugonadal from hypogonadal men; thus, laboratory results have to be interpreted in the appropriate clinical setting. This review focuses on clinical, biological, and technological challenges that affect serum T measurements to educate clinicians regarding technological advances and limitations of the currently available laboratory methods to diagnose hypogonadism. A collaborative effort led by the American Urological Association between practicing clinicians, patient advocacy groups, government regulatory agencies, industry, and professional societies is underway to provide optimized assay platforms and evidence-based normal assay ranges to guide clinical decision making. Until such standardization is commonplace in clinical laboratories, the decision to treat should be based on the presence of signs and symptoms in addition to serum T measurements. Rigid interpretation of T ranges should not dictate clinical decision making or define coverage of treatment by third party payers.