Journalists around the world were all over the map on male menopause story

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An article on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker comments on German media coverage of the “is there male menopause?” question. Excerpt:

“One study, but very different types of headlines: “‘Male Menopause’ discovered” and “Men have no Menopause”.

Both types of headlines are based on one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which analyzed 3219 European males between 40 and 79. Blood samples provided testosterone levels and questionnaires (!) asked about the “general, sexual, physical, and psychological health”.

What the scientists found was nothing more and nothing less than a correlation between a low testosterone level and three clinical symptoms (“decreased frequency of morning erection, decreased frequency of sexual thoughts, and erectile dysfunction”). So, one could call it an age-related testosterone deficiency, affecting only a minority (about 2%) of elderly men. But one shouldn’t name it “andropause” or “male menopause” – and the scientists themselves did NOT use the term in the whole article – because this term immediately suggests a relation to menopause, which is a completely different and natural developmental phenomenon for every woman above the age of 50. Actually, the scientists themselves did this study to find criteria to be able to distinguish between occasional normal low testosterone levels and pathogenic testosterone deficiency – to prevent overtreatment: “The application of these new criteria can guard against the excessive diagnosis of hypogonadism and curb the injudicious use of testosterone therapy in older men.”

US journalists were just as variable in their coverage. A sampling:

WebMD headlined, “Researchers Identify Male Menopause Symptoms.”

US News & World Report said, “Study Points to Symptoms of Male Menopause.”

KABC-TV Los Angeles: “Testosterone levels linked to male menopause”

But Reuters Health wrote, “Doubts cast on ‘male menopause’ criteria.”

And TIME’s blog headline: “Examining ‘male menopause’: myth or malady?”

The last word goes to blogger Liz Scherer, who wrote:

“This means that male menopause, low T, whatever you call it, is overhyped, overdiagnosed and simply does not affect an overwhelming majority of men who are being unwittingly prescribed testosterone therapy when they don’t need it.”

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