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Also known as: Testosterone-estrogen Binding Globulin; TeBG
Formal name: Sex Hormone Binding Globulin
Related tests: Testosterone, Free Testosterone, Bioavailable Testosterone, LH, Albumin, Estradiol, Prolactin

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The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a protein that is produced by the liver and binds tightly to the hormones testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and estradiol (an estrogen). In this bound state, SHBG transports these hormones in the blood as biologically inactive forms. This test measures the level of SHBG in the blood and is most often used to help evaluate 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.

A slightly increased amount of testosterone (66% to 78%) is bound to SHBG in the blood in women, compared to 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 quantity of testosterone. In many cases, this is sufficient to evaluate 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 person's tissues. An SHBG test may be performed when a person's signs and symptoms do not correlate with the results of a total testosterone test.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.