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 is a protein that binds tightly to the hormonestestosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and estradiol (an estrogen). In this bound state, SHBG transports these hormones 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.
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 excessive 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.
Measurement of SHBG helps health practitioners assess bioavailable testosterone with a simple total testosterone measurement. Increased SHBG in men may be associated with symptoms of low testosterone levels (hypogonadism) because less testosterone is available to the body's tissues.
The Endocrine Society professional guidelines recommend measuring total testosterone in the initial screen for testosterone deficiency. If abnormal, the test is repeated on another day. If repeat results are low-normal and/or if SHBG is abnormal, they recommend one of the following:
Measure bioavailable testosterone (using ammonium sulfate precipitation or 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 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.
Currently, the SHBG test is not performed frequently or routinely. In many cases, health practitioners feel that the total testosterone, and perhaps free testosterone (as measured by a method called equilibrium dialysis), provides sufficient information. 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.
A high SHBG level means that it is likely that less free testosterone is available to the 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 the overall evaluation of an individual with signs and symptoms of a condition related to excess or deficient sex hormone production.
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.
This article was last reviewed on July 22, 2015. | This article was last modified on July 22, 2015.
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