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What is DHEA test?

DHEA test or dehydroepiandrosterone is an androgen (male sex hormone) produced by the adrenal gland in both men and women. This hormone can be converted into other hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone. It also plays an important role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics at puberty. An above-normal DHEA in women may indicate an overactive adrenal gland. This test is typically performed in women who have excessive masculine traits. It may also be done in women who have reduced sexual satisfaction and low libido. Furthermore, DHEA test is ordered under the following conditions:

  • If a woman has excess hair on the face and body, a condition known as hirsutism, or amenorrhea, a condition in which she does not get her periods
  • If a woman has difficulty conceiving
  • If a boy has a deep voice or excessive muscle growth at a very young age. Children who mature before puberty may also require this test
  1. Why is a DHEA test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for a DHEA test?
  3. How is DHEA test performed?
  4. What do DHEA test results mean?

This test is performed:

  • To detect tumour or cancer in the adrenaline gland
  • To check for the cause of masculine traits in women such as the development of a heavy voice or excess body hair during puberty. These traits may also include oily skin, acne, irregularity in menstrual cycles, and fertility problems (Read more: Irregular periods causes)
  • To check for the cause of early puberty in men

Unlike other blood tests, DHEA test does not require any special preparations such as fasting. However, it is advisable to inform the health care provider if you take any medications that contain DHEA or DHEA sulfate.

  • A small amount of blood will be taken from a vein in your arm by injecting a sterile needle
  • You may feel a bit of pain as the needle goes in, though, it may subside soon
  • Some risks associated with this test are bleeding, fatigue, lightheadedness, and hematoma. Rarely an infection may occur at the needle injection site. If you feel persistent discomfort, make sure to check in with your doctor at the earliest

Normal results:

Normal results of DHEA test in women are as follows:

  • Ages 18-19: 145-395 mcg/dL
  • Ages 20-29: 65-380 mcg/dL
  • Ages 30-39: 45-270 mcg/dL
  • Ages 40-49: 32-240 mcg/dL
  • Ages 50-59: 26-200 mcg/dL
  • Ages 60-69: 13-130 mcg/dL
  • Ages 69 and older: 17-90 mcg/dL

Normal results for men are:

  • Ages 18-19: 108-441 mcg/dL
  • Ages 20-29: 280-640 mcg/dL
  • Ages 30-39: 120-520 mcg/dL
  • Ages 40-49: 95 to 530 mcg/dL
  • Ages 50-59: 70-310 mcg/dL
  • Ages 60-69: 42-290 mcg/dL
  • Ages 69 and older: 28 to 175 mcg/dL

Abnormal results:

Elevated DHEA levels may indicate conditions such as:

  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a type of genetic disorder that affects an individual’s normal growth
  • A tumour that might indicate cancer
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome, which occurs in women below the age of 50 years. In this condition, cysts are formed on the outside of the ovaries. The condition can be managed with appropriate treatment
  • Early-onset of puberty in a girl

Decreased DHEA levels may indicate conditions such as:

  • Addison’s disease and other adrenal gland disorders caused by lower than normal level of adrenal hormones.
  • Hypopituitarism, which occurs when the pituitary glands do not produce sufficient amount of hormones.
  • The individual being on glucocorticoid medicines.

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational point of view and is in no way a substitute for medical advice by a qualified doctor.

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References

  1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; DHEA-sulfate test
  2. Lab tests online. DHEAS. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; Washington, D.C., United States [Internet]
  3. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry, 3rd Edition. Washington, D.C., United States [Internet]
  4. Cleare AJ, O'Keane V, Miell JP. Levels of DHEA and DHEAS and responses to CRH stimulation and hydrocortisone treatment in chronic fatigue syndrome. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Jul;29(6):724-32. PMID: 15110921
  5. Cleare AJ, O'Keane V, Miell JP. Levels of DHEA and DHEAS and responses to CRH stimulation and hydrocortisone treatment in chronic fatigue syndrome. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Jul;29(6):724-32. PMID: 15110921
  6. Health Harvard Publishing. Harvard Medical School [Internet]. DHEA and health: More questions than answers. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.