DHEA Testing Fact Sheet
Overview of the Test
DHEA or the DHEA-sulphate/sulfate test measures the levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate in the blood, allowing doctors to assess how well the adrenal glands are functioning. DHEA is a steroid that easily converts to DHEA sulphate (S) and medically, DHEA and DHEAS are used interchangeably.
The DHEA test is useful for assisting with the diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hyperandrogenism, a condition where women may have male body characteristics such as a deeper voice, male stature and hirsutism – excessive hair growth. The DHEA test also assists with diagnosis of premature adrenarche, which is when sex hormones are secreted earlier than they should be in children. Altered levels of DHEA may also indicate adrenal carcinoma or tumors of the adrenal gland.
Evidence and Science behind the Test
DHEA is secreted by the adrenal gland and is a precursor for major sex steroid hormones such as oestrogens and testosterone. During pregnancy, DHEA is a precursor for oestriol – an important pregnancy oestrogen. Levels of DHEA decline with age and DHEA may play an important role in the aging process.
Lower levels of DHEA are associated with increased short-term mortality in men, although this same effect does not appear to occur in women. In older men, lower levels of DHEA have also been associated with reduced daily living activities. Individuals with DHEA deficiency who have received DHEA replacement have shown few side effects and considerable improvements in quality of life.
How is it done?
A small sample of blood is taken and sent for analysis. Levels of DHEA vary according to age and gender. Males aged between 20 and 29 have a range of around 65 to 380 micrograms per decilitre (ug/dL), whereas the range for women is around 280 to 640 micrograms per decilitre. If the test identifies low levels of DHEA, it can be through of adrenal gland dysfunction, whereas higher levels are often associated with adrenal cancer.
Who Does It?
Doctor, nurse or other qualified health professional.
When and How Often?
A DHEA test will usually only be recommended where there are symptoms of adrenal gland dysfunction, or other medical conditions that warrant its use. It is common alongside other hormone tests to refine diagnosis.
Tests usually cost $100 upwards and may be available as co-pay or covered on insurance, depending on the purpose on the test, i.e. if it is for infertility investigations, cover may not be available.
The DHEA test often needs carrying out alongside other tests, as it may not provide enough evidence for diagnosis on its own.
- DHEA-sulfate Test Results: http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/003717res.htm
- Allolio B, Arlt W. (2002) DHEA treatment: myth or reality? Trends Endocrinol Metab. 13:288-294
- Interpretive Handbook – Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), Serum –
- DHEA-sulfate test: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003717.htm
- Trivedi, D.P. and Khaw, K.T. (2001). Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and mortality in elderly men and women. J. Clin. Endocrinol.Metab. 86, 4171–4177
Last reviewed 26/Feb/2014