Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced by both men and women. It’s released by the adrenal glands, and it contributes to male traits. The adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped glands located above the kidneys.
The symptoms of DHEA deficiency can include:
- prolonged fatigue
- poor concentration
- a diminished sense of well-being
After the age of 30, DHEA levels begin to decline naturally. DHEA levels may be low in people who have certain conditions such as:
- type 2 diabetes
- adrenal deficiency
- kidney disease
Certain medications may also cause DHEA depletion. These include:
Tumors and adrenal gland disorders can cause abnormally high levels of DHEA, leading to early sexual maturity.
Your doctor may recommend a DHEA-sulfate serum test to make sure that your adrenal glands are working properly and that you have a normal amount of DHEA in your body.
This test is commonly performed on women who have excessive hair growth or the appearance of male body characteristics. A DHEA-sulfate serum test may also be done on children who are maturing at an abnormally early age. These are symptoms of a gland disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which causes increased levels of DHEA and the male sex hormone androgen.
You don’t need to make any special preparations for this test. However, let your doctor know if you’re taking any supplements or vitamins that contain DHEA or DHEA-sulfate because they may affect the reliability of the test.
You’ll have a blood test in your doctor’s office. A healthcare provider will swab the injection site with an antiseptic. They’ll then wrap an elastic band around the top of your arm to cause the vein to swell with blood. Then, they’ll insert a fine needle into your vein to collect a blood sample in an attached tube. They’ll remove the band as the vial fills with blood. When they’ve collected enough blood, they’ll remove the needle from your arm and apply gauze to the site to prevent any further bleeding.
In the case of a young child whose veins are smaller, the healthcare provider will use a sharp instrument called a lancet to puncture their skin. Their blood is then collected into a small tube or onto a test strip. A bandage will be placed on the site to prevent further bleeding.
The blood sample will then be sent to a lab for analysis.
As with any blood tests, there are minimal risks of bruising, bleeding, or infection at the puncture site. In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after blood is drawn. You can treat this condition, known as phlebitis, by applying a warm compress several times per day.
Excessive bleeding could be a problem if you have a bleeding disorder or you’re taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin.
Normal results will vary depending on your sex and age. An abnormally high level of DHEA in the blood may be the result of a number of conditions, including the following:
- Adrenal carcinoma is a rare disorder that results in the growth of malignant cancer cells in the adrenal gland’s outer layer
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a series of inherited adrenal gland disorders that cause boys to enter puberty two to three years early. In girls, it can cause abnormal hair growth, irregular menstrual periods, and genitals that appear to look both male and female.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome is an imbalance of female sex hormones.
- An adrenal gland tumor is the growth of a benign or cancerous tumor on the adrenal gland.
After the Test
If your test shows that you have abnormal levels of DHEA, your doctor will administer a series of additional tests to determine the cause. In the case of an adrenal tumor, you may need surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. If you have congenital adrenal hyperplasia or polycystic ovary syndrome, you may require hormone therapy to stabilize your level of DHEA.