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DHEA-sulfate test

The DHEA-sulfate test measures the amount of DHEA-sulfate in the blood. DHEA-sulfate is a weak male hormone (androgen) produced by the adrenal gland in both men and women. DHEA stands for dehydroepiandrosterone.

Alternative Names

Serum DHEA-sulfate; Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate test; DHEA-sulfate - serum

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special preparation is necessary. However, tell your health care provider if you are taking any vitamins or supplements that contain DHEA or DHEA-sulfate.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or sting. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or a slight bruise. This soon goes away.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done to check the function of the adrenal glands . The adrenal gland is one of the major sources of androgens in women.

The DHEA-sulfate test is often done in women who have male body characteristics (virilism), excessive hair growth (hirsutism ), irregular periods, or infertility. It is also done in children who are maturing too early (precocious puberty ).

It may also be done in women with pituitary disease or adrenal disease who are concerned about low libido or decreased sexual satisfaction.

Normal Results

Normal blood levels of DHEA-sulfate can differ by sex and age.

Typical normal ranges for females are:

  • Ages 18 - 19: 145 - 395 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL)
  • Ages 20 - 29: 65 - 380 ug/dL
  • Ages 30 - 39: 45 - 270 ug/dL
  • Ages 40 - 49: 32 - 240 ug/dL
  • Ages 50 - 59: 26 - 200 ug/dL
  • Ages 60 - 69: 13 - 130 ug/dL
  • Ages 69 and older: 17 - 90 ug/dL

Typical normal ranges for males are:

  • Ages 18 - 19: 108 - 441 ug/dL
  • Ages 20 - 29: 280 - 640 ug/dL
  • Ages 30 - 39: 120 - 520 ug/dL
  • Ages 40 - 49: 95 - 530 ug/dL
  • Ages 50 - 59: 70 - 310 ug/dL
  • Ages 60 - 69: 42 - 290 ug/dL
  • Ages 69 and older: 28 - 175 ug/dL

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different specimens. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An increase in DHEA-sulfate may be due to:

A decrease in DHEA sulfate may be due to:

  • Adrenal glands that produce lower-than-normal amounts of their hormones
  • Hypopituitarism (underactive pituitary gland)
  • Taking glucocorticoid medications 

Although DHEA-sulfate is the most abundant hormone in the body, its exact function is still not known. In men, the androgenic (male hormone) effect may not be important. In women, DHEA contributes to normal libido and sexual satisfaction. DHEA may also have effects on the immune system.

Risks

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Guber HA, Farag AF. Evaluation of endocrine function. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 24.

Updated: 5/10/2014

Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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