Also Known As
SHBG
Testosterone-estrogen Binding Globulin
TeBG
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on September 23, 2019.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

Most commonly measured in the evaluation of low testosterone (possible androgen deficiency) in men; also commonly used in the evaluation of women with signs and symptoms suggestive of excess male hormones (androgens)

When To Get Tested?

When you have signs and symptoms of increased or decreased testosterone and the total testosterone measurement is inconsistent with your symptoms

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?

None; however, testosterone is best measured in the morning because in men, testosterone levels demonstrate diurnal variation with higher levels in the morning.

You may be able to find your test results on your laboratory's website or patient portal. However, you are currently at Lab Tests Online. You may have been directed here by your lab's website in order to provide you with background information about the test(s) you had performed. You will need to return to your lab's website or portal, or contact your healthcare practitioner in order to obtain your test results.

Lab Tests Online is an award-winning patient education website offering information on laboratory tests. The content on the site, which has been reviewed by laboratory scientists and other medical professionals, provides general explanations of what results might mean for each test listed on the site, such as what a high or low value might suggest to your healthcare practitioner about your health or medical condition.

The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results.

If you do not have your lab report, consult your healthcare provider or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range.

Laboratory test results are not meaningful by themselves. Their meaning comes from comparison to reference ranges. Reference ranges are the values expected for a healthy person. They are sometimes called "normal" values. By comparing your test results with reference values, you and your healthcare provider can see if any of your test results fall outside the range of expected values. Values that are outside expected ranges can provide clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

While accuracy of laboratory testing has significantly evolved over the past few decades, some lab-to-lab variability can occur due to differences in testing equipment, chemical reagents, and techniques. This is a reason why so few reference ranges are provided on this site. It is important to know that you must use the range supplied by the laboratory that performed your test to evaluate whether your results are "within normal limits."

For more information, please read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a protein produced by the liver that transports the hormones testosterone (an androgen), dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (an androgen), and estradiol (an estrogen) in the blood as biologically inactive forms. Changes in SHBG levels can affect the amount of hormone that is available to be used by the body's tissues. This test measures the level of SHBG in the blood and is most often used to help evaluate patients for testosterone deficiency or excess.

In men, about 45% to 65% of testosterone in blood is normally bound to SHBG, with the remainder weakly and reversibly bound to albumin (the main protein in the blood). Only about 2% to 3% of testosterone is immediately available to the tissues as free testosterone, but testosterone that is weakly bound to albumin is also bioavailable and can be readily taken up by the body's tissues.

Slightly more testosterone is bound to SHBG in the blood (66% to 78%) in women than in men. In women, SHBG plays an integral role in regulating the levels of bioavailable male sex hormones (androgens) and estrogens circulating throughout the body. SHBG has a higher affinity for the androgens testosterone and DHT and so in the setting of low SHBG, women may have signs and symptoms related to androgen excess.

A total testosterone test does not distinguish between bound and unbound testosterone but determines the overall level of testosterone in the plasma. In many cases, this test is sufficient to evaluate patients for excess or deficient testosterone production. However, if your SHBG level is not normal, then the total testosterone may not be an accurate representation of the amount of testosterone that is available to your tissues. An SHBG test may be performed when your signs and symptoms do not correlate with the results of a total testosterone test.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    The sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) test may be used to help evaluate men for low testosterone and women for excess testosterone production. It may be ordered in conjunction with other tests to evaluate the status of a person's sex hormones.

    SHBG in men
    SHBG and total testosterone levels may be ordered for an adult male to help determine the cause of infertility, a decreased sex drive, or erectile dysfunction. Measurement of SHBG in addition to testosterone is especially helpful when total testosterone results are inconsistent with clinical signs.

    Measurement of total testosterone in the blood does not distinguish between bound and unbound (bioavailable) testosterone but, as the name implies, determines the overall quantity of testosterone in the blood. In many cases, this is sufficient to evaluate patients for the possibility of excess or deficient testosterone production. However, if a person's SHBG level is not normal, then the total testosterone may not be an accurate representation of the amount of testosterone that is available to the body's tissues.

    Increased SHBG in men may be associated with symptoms of low testosterone levels (hypogonadism) because less testosterone is available to the body's tissues. Low testosterone leads to increased production of SHBG, further decreasing the amount of testosterone available to tissues.

    The Endocrine Society professional guidelines recommend measuring total testosterone in the initial screen for testosterone deficiency in men. If abnormal, the test is repeated on another day. If repeat results are low-normal and/or if SHBG is abnormal, one of the following is recommended:

    • Measure bioavailable testosterone (using ammonium sulfate precipitation of SHBG)
    • Calculate free testosterone from total testosterone and SHBG
    • Measure free testosterone (using a method called equilibrium dialysis)


    SHBG in women
    In women, small amounts of testosterone are produced by the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Even slight increases in testosterone production can disrupt the balance of hormones and cause symptoms such as irregular or missed menstrual periods, infertility, acne, and excess facial and body hair (hirsutism). These signs and symptoms and others are often seen with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition characterized by an excess production of male sex hormones (androgens). SHBG and testosterone testing may be useful in helping to detect and evaluate excess testosterone production and/or decreased SHBG concentrations and in evaluating women suspected of having PCOS.

  • When is it ordered?

    Currently, the SHBG test is not performed frequently or routinely. SHBG is ordered primarily when the total testosterone results do not seem to be consistent with clinical signs and symptoms, such as infertility, decreased sex drive, and erectile dysfunction in men or infertility, irregular menstrual periods, and excess facial and body hair in women.

  • What does the test result mean?

    A high SHBG level means that it is likely that less free testosterone is available to your tissues than is indicated by the total testosterone test. A low SHBG level means that more of the total testosterone is bioavailable and not bound to SHBG. This information may be important in your overall evaluation when you have signs and symptoms of a condition related to excess or deficient sex hormone production.

    Increased SHBG levels may be seen in:


    Decreases in SHBG are seen with:

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    SHBG concentrations are normally high in children of both sexes. After puberty, SHBG levels decrease more rapidly in males than in females. Levels are normally stable in adults and then begin to increase in the elderly male at the same time that total testosterone levels begin to decrease. In postmenopausal women, SHBG, testosterone, and estrogen concentrations decrease as hormone production by the ovaries tapers off.

  • Are there other uses for the SHBG test?

    Not yet, but researchers are evaluating conditions in which there are changes in SHBG levels to see if there may be additional clinical uses for the test. Recent studies have identified that there may be a link between SHBG levels and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.

  • How else might my health practitioner use the measurement of SHBG levels in my care?

    Having measured the total testosterone and SHBG levels, your healthcare practitioner or the laboratory can calculate the free testosterone level, which is one of the best measures of the active testosterone level in the plasma.

  • In addition to SHBG, what other tests might be done?

    Testing for the albumin level and one or more other sex hormones, such as prolactin, estradiol, LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), may also be performed to evaluate your existing balance of hormones.

View Sources

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