Purpose: We reviewed the results of serum testosterone and prolactin determination in 1,022 patients referred because of erectile dysfunction and compared the data with history, results of physical examination, other etiological investigations and effects of endocrine therapy to refine the rules of cost-effective endocrine screening and to pinpoint actual responsibility for hormonal abnormalities.
Materials and methods: Testosterone and prolactin were determined by radioimmunoassay. Every patient was screened for testosterone and 451 were screened for prolactin on the basis of low sexual desire, gynecomastia or testosterone less than 4 ng./ml. Determination was repeated in case of abnormal first results. Prolactin results were compared with those of a previous personal cohort of 1,340 patients with erectile dysfunction and systematic prolactin determination. Main clinical criteria tested regarding efficiency in hormone determination were low sexual desire, small testes and gynecomastia. Endocrine therapy consisted of testosterone heptylate or human chorionic gonadotropin for hypogonadism and bromocriptine for hyperprolactinemia.
Results: Testosterone was less than 3 ng./ml. in 107 patients but normal in 40% at repeat determination. The prevalence of repeatedly low testosterone increased with age (4% before age 50 years and 9% 50 years or older). Two pituitary tumors were discovered after testosterone determination. Most of the other low testosterone levels seemed to result from nonorganic hypothalamic dysfunction because of normal serum luteinizing hormone and prolactin and to have only a small role in erectile dysfunction (definite improvement in only 16 of 44 [36%] after androgen therapy, normal morning or nocturnal erections in 30% and definite vasculogenic contributions in 42%). Determining testosterone only in cases of low sexual desire or abnormal physical examination would have missed 40% of the cases with low testosterone, including 37% of those subsequently improved by androgen therapy. Prolactin exceeded 20 ng./ml. in 5 men and was normal in 2 at repeat determination. Only 1 prolactinoma was discovered. These data are lower than those we found during the last 2 decades (overall prolactin greater than 20 ng./ml. in 1.86% of 1,821 patients, prolactinomas in 7, 0.38%). Bromocriptine was definitely effective in cases with prolactin greater than 35 ng./ml. (8 of 12 compared to only 9 of 22 cases with prolactin between 20 and 35 ng./ml.). Testosterone was low in less than 50% of cases with prolactin greater than 35 ng./ml.
Conclusions: Low prevalences and effects of low testosterone and high prolactin in erectile dysfunction cannot justify their routine determination. However, cost-effective screening strategies recommended so far missed 40 to 50% of cases improved with endocrine therapy and the pituitary tumors. We now advocate that before age 50 years testosterone be determined only in cases of low sexual desire and abnormal physical examination but that it be measured in all men older than 50 years. Prolactin should be determined only in cases of low sexual desire, gynecomastia and/or testosterone less than 4 ng./ml.