Breaking the silence
Paul Pennington writes: It is a little over two and a half years since I was diagnosed with Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome and if I hadn’t come across Dr Malcolm Carruthers and the Centre for Men’s Health through my work, I reckon I would still be trying to make excuses for the symptoms of the condition, that I now realise had slowly come on over 14 years.
We are to a degree, conditioned to expect certain things will happen to us as we get older and as men we are very good at finding excuses not to trouble the doctor and just ‘get on with things’. For me, the middle aged spread which had accelerated in my 40’s, I put down to giving up smoking and enjoying my food and drink too much. This I believed had in turn stopped me being as active or having as much energy as I used to have. The bouts of grumpiness and intolerance, forgetfulness, inability to focus and not being interested in sex - I’d put down to a combination of being the wrong side of 45 and the pressures of running a business.
A couple of situations that arose at work prompted my girlfriend of the time to encourage me to talk to my GP. My size, which then was double extra-large was, I was told, putting me at risk of diabetes, something that had blighted my late father’s life, so I knew I had to do something about it. I tried exercising and a few different weight loss programmes but the kilos wouldn’t move. The GP suggested I might also be suffering from mild depression, so I was provided with anti-depressants, which didn’t seem to help and I was placed on the waiting list for counselling. Although I thought counselling might be useful, I didn’t think it would change my situation significantly, so I had resigned myself that I might just have to put up with things. There was never any suggestion it might be my hormones that might be playing a significant role in my state of health.
A World record attempt
I’d spent several years working between my offices in London and Manchester employed by a charity to raise awareness of a thankfully rare, terminal lung disease. The activity had resulted in a Guinness World Record attempt which I’d managed to persuade ITV’s This Morning’s Dr Chris Steele to officiate at. During the event Dr Steele, told me about how a doctor friend of his, Dr Malcolm Carruthers, was opening up a private clinic for men in Manchester and suggested I contact him to see if my business might be able to help. I did so and after talking things through with Dr Carruthers about what needed to be done, he booked my team to assist launch the Manchester Centre for Men’s Health and to develop a website for the practice and its network of clinics, which would include video content. Dr Steele kindly offered to interview Dr Carruthers ‘on-camera’ for the Centre for Men’s Health website and I was tasked with directing. It was during the course of this interview that ‘the penny dropped’. The symptoms Dr Carruthers was highlighting were exactly what I’d been encountering. Soon, after the interview took place, I plucked up the courage to take Dr Carruthers to one side and ask if I could book an appointment with him. Within a few days I’d had a blood test and an extensive appointment at Dr Carruthers Harley Street clinic in London where all my health history was probed and I received a full physical examination and review of my test results. It was confirmed that I had Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome.
A world of difference
Within a few weeks of starting testosterone replacement treatment my focus had returned, my mood and energy levels were improved, my sex drive re-emerged and I started to feel like myself again. This time, my efforts to eat better and exercise more, which Dr Carruthers had encouraged me to do, did have an impact on my waistline and all in all everything was going in the right direction.
Discovering that I was testosterone deficient had taken a little time to get my head around. I was relieved to find out there was a cause to my symptoms but that relief turned to shock when Dr Carruthers shared with me the research he’d been doing over nearly 30 years, including a recent study with 10,000 men over the age of 50 which suggested that as many as 20% of chaps my age (1.8 million!) across the UK were living with the symptoms of Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome to a moderate or severe degree but that less than 1% had been treated.
He and his wife had set up a charity, the Society for the Study of Androgen Deficiency (Andropause Society), with a number of colleagues in the medical profession to highlight the importance of men’s hormonal health and to campaign for more treatment of the condition. I was impressed that this private clinician would try to effectively put himself out of business by pushing for greater acceptance of Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome and treatment on the NHS, so I offered to help!
Here was a reversible condition, linked with the likes of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. Yet research showed that very few GP’s associated the symptoms with the condition and that the majority of men weren’t aware. Knowing how men are more likely to turn to the internet rather than the healthcare profession, I worked with Dr Carruthers to overhaul the Society for the Study of Androgen Deficiency (Andropause Society) website (www.andropausesociety.org) and got to work setting up a yearly awareness initiative in early October, to provide a focus.
Media articles followed, and I found myself sharing my experiences with journalists. Although I didn’t particularly like being classed as going through some form of ‘male menopause’ or ‘andropause’ as it’s otherwise termed - I knew from the emails and phone calls that I’d received, by talking openly about what I had gone through, it was helping others to recognise symptoms in themselves and go and see their GP.
Delay, Delay, Delay…
Dr Carruthers had warned me that getting treated on the NHS for Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome wasn’t as straight forward as it should be. It didn’t take me long to understand what he meant. After a couple of months the calls of relief and thanks I’d previously received at Society for the Study of Androgen Deficiency (Andropause Society) following my media appearances, were replaced by expressions of frustration at the way these men had been treated by their doctors and the NHS. All too often I was hearing that doctors didn’t believe Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome exists. In instances where a man’s symptoms had actually been taken seriously by their GP, I was learning all too often of how they were being sent backwards and forwards between the GP and hospital specialists for tests and investigations. Now, I’m not party to the individual history of each man I spoke to and there could be very good reasons why each had taken a protracted period to be diagnosed and placed on a therapeutic trial of testosterone treatment. What I do know is, thanks to the extensive media coverage this important and emerging area of men's health is receiving, awareness of Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome is growing amongst GP's and the public…. but progress is painfully slow!!