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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, and enlargement of the external genitals and abnormal periods in girls.

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 disease, or AIDS.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

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

Your healthcare provider 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?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

Normal levels vary with age and gender. 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 excess growth of hormone-producing tissue (hyperplasia).

If your DHEA level is low, it may mean that your adrenal glands are not making enough hormones. This can be because of damage to the 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 medicines, like prednisone.

How is this test done?

The test is done with a blood sample. A needle is used to draw blood from a vein in your arm or hand. 

Does this test pose any risks?

Having a blood test with a needle carries some risks. These include bleeding, infection, bruising, and feeling lightheaded. When the needle pricks your arm or hand, you may feel a slight sting or pain. Afterward, the site may be 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?

Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking a DHEA supplement or any supplement marketed as an "athletic performance enhancer." Be sure your healthcare provider 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.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Haldeman-Englert, Chad, MD
  • Taylor, Wanda L, RN, Ph.D.