What Is The Difference Between Total And Free Testosterone Levels & How They Affect You

Developing low testosterone levels or testosterone deficiency syndrome is an extremely common issue, with reports suggesting that it affects roughly 2% of the total population and 8% of the over 50s, as well as significantly higher percentage of older men (1).

With the symptoms of low testosterone ranging from mild and annoying to potentially life altering, it is an issue that you will want to get diagnosed as quickly as possible, to help you keep your health in check. However, recent studies have shown that tests often don’t check for free testosterone levels.

As free and total testosterone levels mean very different things, despite sounding very similar, getting an accurate reading on the right things is vital. With that in mind, lets take a look at the difference between total and free testosterone levels and how they affect you, to help you stay at peak health.

What Is Testosterone?

Testosterone is the male sex hormone that is traditionally produced by the testicles. It plays a variety of roles in the human body, including controlling muscle and bone growth and strength and energy levels.

It is also responsible for a particularly great number of functions in men, such as controlling their sexual functions and development, keeping their libido up, promoting the growth of body and facial hair, and determining the depth of your voice (2).

What Is Free Testosterone?

Free testosterone is the name given to the testosterone in your system that is not attached to any proteins. Also sometimes known as bioavailable testosterone, this is the testosterone that your body can use easily when the hormone is required (3).

What Is Total Testosterone?

As the name suggests, your total testosterone levels include every bit of testosterone in your system, including the free testosterone that we have already looked at.

While this is often the number that people will look at when analysing their testosterone levels, not distinguishing a difference between the different test sources can make the results less useful.

How Does Free Testosterone Affect Male Health Compared To Total Testosterone?

When your free testosterone levels drop, you can experience a number of complications, such as losing muscle or struggling to build new lean mass, having poor energy levels or sex drive, gaining fat, or becoming more irritable.

Now, it is possible that you experience some of these symptoms when your total testosterone levels drop as, as we have established, these include your free testosterone levels.

The issue is, this is not a sure thing, as if your total testosterone levels are low but your free testosterone levels are fine, you are unlikely to experience problems.

Issues will start to occur if these things happen the other way round though. If your free testosterone levels are low but your total testosterone levels are fine, you will experience the symptoms of low testosterone but there is a very high chance that your condition will go undiagnosed.

Without treatment, these issues will never get better and are likely to worsen. It is therefore essential that if you are experiencing any symptoms of low testosterone, you get your free testosterone levels checked, rather than your total testosterone levels.

How Do You Check Your Testosterone Levels?

The only sure-fire way to get an accurate idea of your testosterone level is with a blood test.

You will usually be able to request that your doctor tests you for this if you are experiencing one or more symptoms of low testosterone and have been for a while.

There are also private clinics where you will be able to book a testosterone test at your own expense as well, if you would rather go that way and avoid waiting around.

What Symptoms Should You Look Out For If You Are Worried Bout Having Low Testosterone Levels?

While things like reduced muscle mass, poor muscle growth, and reduced sex drive and energy levels are the most common symptoms of low testosterone levels, they are not the only ones.

Things like anaemia, anxiety, depression, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, hair loss, hormone imbalances, hot flashes, poor bone density, mood swings, shrunken genitals, and increased fat storage and weight gain are all very common symptoms of low testosterone levels as well (4).

If you experience any of these issues, it is advisable to get your free testosterone levels checked as soon as possible.

How Do You Develop Low Testosterone Levels?

Low testosterone levels and poor testosterone production can both be caused by a number of things.

Health conditions like male hypogonadism, significant stored body fat, old age, and damaged glands are all common causes of poor testosterone levels, but the issue can even be caused by certain medications which affect the glands as well.

What Are The Best Ways To Increase Your Free Testosterone Levels?

There are a number of options that you have open to you when it comes to naturally trying to raise your testosterone levels. Simple things like taking vitamin d, lifting weights or doing some other form of resistance training, and even simply eating healthily are all easy yet effective options.

For people who are struggling with very low testosterone levels or finding that these methods are not working, taking a testosterone booster is a great option as well. A supplement designed from various ingredients to boost testosterone production; they will resolve the issue for most people (5).

If all else fails, you have testosterone replacement therapy, a medical procedure that will directly elevate your hormone production in a much more direct way.

When Should You Contact A Medical Professional About Your Testosterone Levels?

You may feel like you don’t want to go to the doctor too quickly after thinking that you may have low testosterone levels, as many people will often think that they are simply imagining it and won’t want to “waste” a doctor’s time.

Now, feeling a little tired or lethargic for a few days, experiencing the odd mood swing, or having an occasional issue in the bedroom can all be symptoms of low testosterone levels, but they can also be caused by other things, so you don’t want to rush to a doctor as soon as you experience one of them.

However, as they can all cause major complications and become chronic if left untreated, you don’t want to leave it too long to get checked either. That is why we would suggest you leave it around 10 days after first experiencing any symptoms of low testosterone before you take action.

If during that span the issues subside, then they were likely caused by something much less serious, like just being tired or having a poor diet. However, if they persist, you should make an appointment with a doctor as soon as you can, so that you can get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Final Thoughts On Total And Free Testosterone Levels

Low testosterone levels can be a severe issue for many people, but one which is relatively easy to fix, so long as you get it diagnosed and treatment started fairly quickly. To do this though, it is vital that you have your free testosterone levels tested, rather than simply your total testosterone levels.

You should now have a good idea of how both your free testosterone and total testosterone levels affect you. So long as you have the confidence to take action and ensure that you get the right tests and treatment, you should need never worry about dealing with low testosterone symptoms again.


  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15603-low-testosterone-male-hypogonadism#:~:text=Data%20suggest%20that%20about%202,79%20years%20have%20low%20testosterone.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526128/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549166/#:~:text=Free%20testosterone%20(FT)%20is%20the,globulin%20(SHBG)%20and%20albumin.&text=SHBG%20bound%20testosterone%20remains%20in,binding%20function%20in%20this%20form.
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4255853/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6920068/
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