Dehydroepiandrosterone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate

Does this test have other names?

DHEA, DHEA-S

What is this test?

This test measures the level of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) in your blood. It may also be used to check how well your adrenal glands are working.

DHEA is a hormone made by your adrenal glands and to a lesser degree by the ovaries and testes. DHEA is changed into DHEA-S in your adrenal glands and liver.

In both men and women, the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone depend on DHEA. DHEA also has a role in the making of insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 helps with muscle growth and insulin sensitivity.

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test if you have symptoms of either high or low levels of DHEA-S. Men may not have any symptoms of high levels of DHEA-S. Signs and symptoms in women include:

  • Acne

  • Deep voice

  • Hirsutism, or excessive hair growth on the face and body

  • Female pattern baldness

  • Increased muscularity

  • Missed periods, or even sterility

High levels of DHEA-S in children can cause early puberty in boys. A high level of DHEA-S in girls can cause external genitals and abnormal periods.

Low levels of DHEA-S are linked to signs of aging, and include these conditions:

  • Diabetes

  • Osteoporosis

  • Dementia

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Vaginal atrophy, or inflammation of the vagina because of thinning and shrinking of the vaginal tissues and decreased vaginal lubrication

  • Reduced libido, or sex drive

You may also have a low DHEA-S level if you have lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn's disease, or AIDS.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your doctor may also order a blood test to check your androstenedione (AD) level if he or she suspects that you are making too much DHEA and DHEA-S. (AD is a molecule made from DHEA before it ultimately turns into a sex hormone.)

Your doctor may also order tests to check your levels of estrogen and testosterone, as well as other sex hormones.

Your doctor may order an adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH, test if he or she suspects that you are making too little DHEA and DHEA-S.

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

Results for DHEA are given in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Normal value ranges for DHEA are:

  • 1.0 to 9.5 ng/mL for adult men

  • 0.4 to 3.7 ng/mL for adult women

Results for DHEA-S are given in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Normal value ranges for DHEA-S are:

  • 10 to 619 mcg/dL for adult men

  • 12 to 535 mcg/dL for premenopausal women

  • 30 to 260 mcg/dL for postmenopausal women

If you have a normal level, it means your adrenal glands are working the way they should.

If your level of DHEA-S is high, it may mean that you have adrenal cancer, tumors, or hyperplasia – the excess growth of hormone-producing tissue.

If your DHEA level is low, it may mean that your adrenal glands are not making enough hormones. This can be because of a damaged outer layer of an adrenal gland or a diseased pituitary gland. The pituitary gland makes a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to do their job. If the pituitary gland doesn't make enough of its hormone, then the adrenal glands won't produce enough of their hormone either. Your adrenal glands may stop working for a short time if you suddenly start or stop taking certain medications, like prednisone.

How is this test done?

The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your arm.

Does this test pose any risks?

Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection, bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.

What might affect my test results?

Menstruation can affect your results. You should have this test done one week before or after your menstrual period.

DHEA supplements can also affect your results. Nutritional supplements aren't monitored in the U.S., so the purity and strength listed on the supplement package may be unreliable.

How do I get ready for this test?

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking a DHEA supplement or any supplement marketed as  an "athletic performance enhancer." In addition, let your doctor know about all other medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.