DHEA Sulfate Test

What is a DHEA sulfate test?

This test measures the levels of DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) in your blood. DHEAS stands for dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate. DHEAS is a male sex hormone that is found in both men and women. DHEAS plays an important role in making the male sex hormone testosterone and the female sex hormone estrogen. It’s also involved in the development of male sexual characteristics at puberty.

DHEAS is mostly made in the adrenal glands, two small glands located above your kidneys. They help control heart rate, blood pressure, and other body functions. Smaller amounts of DHEAS are made in a man’s testicles and in a woman’s ovaries. If your DHEAS levels are not normal, it may mean there is a problem with your adrenal glands or sex organs (testicles or ovaries.)

Other names: DHEAS, DHEA-S, DHEA, DHEA-SO4, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate

What is it used for?

A DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) test is most often used to:

  • Find out if your adrenal glands are working right
  • Diagnose tumors of the adrenal glands
  • Diagnose disorders of the testicles or ovaries
  • Find out the cause of early puberty in boys
  • Find out the cause of excess body hair growth and development of masculine features in women and girls

A DHEAS test is often done along with other sex hormone tests. These include testosterone tests for men and estrogen tests for women.

Why do I need a DHEA sulfate test?

You may need this test if you have symptoms of high levels or low levels of DHEA sulfate (DHEAS). Men may not have any symptoms of high levels of DHEAS. Symptoms of high levels of DHEAS in women and girls may include:

  • Excess body and facial hair growth
  • Deepening of voice
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Acne
  • Increased muscularity
  • Hair loss at the top of the head

Baby girls may also need testing if they have genitals that are not clearly male or female in appearance (ambiguous genitalia). Boys may need this test if they have signs of early puberty.

Symptoms of low levels of DHEAS may include the following signs of an adrenal gland disorder:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Craving for salt

Other symptoms of low DHEAS are related to aging and may include:

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Thinning of vaginal tissues in women

What happens during a DHEA sulfate test?

A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a DHEA sulfate test.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

What do the results mean?

If your results show high levels of DHEA sulfate (DHEAS), it may mean you have one of the following conditions:

  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an inherited disorder of the adrenal glands
  • A tumor of the adrenal gland. It may be benign (noncancerous) or cancerous.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a common hormone disorder affecting childbearing women. It is one of the leading causes of female infertility.

If your results show low levels of DHEAS, it may mean you have one of the following conditions:

  • Addison disease. Addison disease is a disorder in which the adrenal glands are not able to make enough of certain hormones.
  • Hypopituitarism, a condition in which the pituitary gland does not make enough pituitary hormones

If you have questions about your results, talk to your provider.

Is there anything else I need to know about a DHEA sulfate test?

DHEA sulfate levels normally decline with age in both men and women. Over-the-counter DHEA sulfate supplements are available and are sometimes promoted as an anti-aging therapy. But there is no reliable evidence to support these anti-aging claims. In fact, these supplements may cause serious side effects. If you have questions about DHEA supplements, talk to your health care provider.

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