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DHEA-S Test

Test Overview

DHEA-S (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate) is a male hormone (androgen) that is made in the adrenal glands. The body turns it into testosterone. A test for DHEA-S checks the level of this hormone in the blood.

Testosterone affects sexual features and development. In men, it is made in large amounts by the testicles. In both men and women, testosterone is made in small amounts by the adrenal glands. In women, small amounts are made by the ovaries.

Why It Is Done

This test is usually done along with tests of other hormone levels. DHEA-S might be tested to:

  • Look for the cause of facial hair, a deep voice, or other signs of too much male hormone in a girl or woman. It may be one of the tests done to diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • To help find other conditions, such as:
    • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This is a condition that causes the adrenal glands to make too much male sex hormone.
    • Infertility.
    • Delayed puberty.
    • Cushing's disease.
    • A tumor in an adrenal gland.

How To Prepare

If your doctor tells you to fast before your test, do not eat or drink anything except water for 9 to 12 hours before you have your blood drawn. In most cases, you are allowed to take your medicines with water the morning of the test.

The test is usually done in the morning, because that is when the amount of DHEA-S is at its highest.

Women may be asked to take the test at a certain time in their menstrual cycle.

How It Is Done

The health professional taking a sample of blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

How It Feels

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.

Risks

There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be used several times a day to treat this.
  • Ongoing bleeding can be a problem for people with bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your doctor before your blood sample is taken.

Results

The normal values listed here—called a reference range—are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab, and your lab may have a different range for what's normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.

DHEA levels 1

Women before menopause

60 to 340 mcg/dL or 820 to 3,380 ng/mL

Women after menopause

Less than 130 mcg/dL or 100 to 610 ng/mL

Pregnant women (full term)

230 to 1,170 ng/mL

Adult male

130 to 550 mcg/dL or 270 to 1,400 ng/dL

Male before puberty

2,000 to 3,350 ng/mL

Child

100 to 600 ng/dL

Newborn

1,670 to 3,640 ng/mL

High values

Levels of DHEA may be high because you have:

Low values

Levels of DHEA may be low because:

  • In males, the adrenal glands are not making enough male sex hormones (androgens).
  • In women, the ovaries are not making enough female sex hormones (estrogen).
  • An adrenal gland has a tumor.
  • You have a condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis.

What Affects the Test

You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if you:

  • Have had a radioactive scan done within a week of the test. This may increase DHEA-S levels.
  • Use corticosteroids. This may reduce the level of DHEA-S.
  • Use certain medicines, such as phenytoin, carbamazepine, amlodipine, or antidepressants.
  • Take DHEA supplements, which can increase the level of DHEA-S.
  • Do intense exercise, such as running a marathon. It can increase DHEA levels for a few days.

What To Think About

Levels of DHEA-S are normally high in newborns. They are lower in childhood and then rise again in puberty.

References

Citations

  1. Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2013). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 6th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Last Revised July 29, 2013

Last Revised: July 29, 2013

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