DHEAS Test (DHEA Sulfate Test)
What is a DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) test?
A DHEAS test measures levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) in your blood. Your adrenal glands make DHEA sulfate, a steroid hormone found in all sexes. DHEAS levels tend to peak around puberty and then naturally decline with age.
What’s the purpose of DHEAS?
Your body converts DHEAS into androgens (testosterone and androstenedione) and estrogen. Males make more testosterone, while females make more estrogen, but all sexes produce and use these hormones. DHEAS is critical for the development of male sex characteristics during puberty and for reproduction in all sexes.
What’s the role of the adrenal glands?
You have two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. These glands make most of the body’s DHEAS. The testicles in the male reproductive system and ovaries in the female reproductive system also make small amounts of DHEAS.
Your adrenal glands:
- Make DHEAS needed for the production of sex hormones.
- Produce cortisol, a hormone that aids the immune system and metabolism.
- Help control heart rate, blood pressure and other body functions.
Who might need a DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) test?
Infants or children who are intersex may also get a DHEAS test. Intersex means a person’s reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn’t quite fit a binary (male/female) classification.
What happens if DHEAS levels are high?
Male children with high DHEAS levels may experience early (precocious) puberty. Adults presenting as men at birth with high levels may not have symptoms.
People born female at birth with high levels of DHEAS may experience:
- Abnormal menstruation, including amenorrhea (missed periods).
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism).
- Hair loss in women.
- Severe acne.
- Vaginal atrophy.
What happens if DHEAS levels are low?
In addition, low DHEAS levels can cause:
Who performs a DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) test?
A DHEAS test requires a blood draw. Some labs don’t offer this specialized test. Your provider will direct you to a lab that does.
The procedure takes less than five minutes. A phlebotomist, a specialist trained in drawing blood, takes the blood sample. Your healthcare provider may order tests to check other hormone levels, such as testosterone or estrogen, using the same blood draw.
What happens during a DHEAS test?
To draw the blood, a provider:
- Ties an elastic band (tourniquet) around the upper part of your arm (bicep) to force more blood into the blood vessels. This increase in blood volume makes it easier to access a vein.
- Sterilizes your skin with an antiseptic.
- Inserts a thin, hollow needle into a vein on the inside of the arm. You may feel a slight pinch as the needle punctures the skin, but the procedure shouldn’t be painful.
- Draws the blood into syringes or vials (small tubes).
- Removes the tourniquet toward the end of the blood draw and then withdraws the needle.
- Places sterile cotton gauze on the puncture site and applies gentle pressure to stop the bleeding.
- Uses medical tape to secure the cotton gauze to the needle puncture or puts a bandage on the site.
- Sends the blood to a lab for analysis.
How should I prepare for a DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) test?
Unlike other hormones that fluctuate, DHEAS levels tend to remain stable throughout the day. The time of day that you get the DHEAS test shouldn’t affect the test results. You can eat or drink as usual before a DHEAS test unless your provider instructs you otherwise.
You should ask your provider whether you should stop taking certain medicines or supplements before the blood test. Certain medicines that treat diabetes and high blood pressure can increase DHEAS levels, while supplements like fish oil and vitamin E can lower them. Nicotine also causes DHEAS levels to rise, so you shouldn’t smoke before the test.
Results and Follow-Up
When will I get the test results?
It can take several days for your provider to get the results back from the lab.
What are normal values of DHEAS?
Blood tests measure DHEAS a variety of units and typical ranges for DHEAS levels vary by age and sex.
Laboratories can use different techniques that can affect the results. Two labs might return slightly different results from the same blood sample. For this reason, your provider will use the same lab to track your levels, and will use lab-specific normal value ranges.
What does it mean to have high DHEAS levels?
High levels of DHEAS may mean you need additional testing. They can indicate problems such as:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Cancerous or noncancerous adrenal tumors, including adrenocortical carcinoma.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
- Ovarian cancer.
What does it mean to have low DHEAS levels?
Low levels of DHEAS also may require further testing. They can be a sign of problems including:
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I take DHEA supplements?
Probably not. Despite the claims, there’s no evidence that over-the-counter DHEA supplements slow the aging process, help build muscle or improve physical performance. But the supplements can cause serious side effects and interfere with prescribed medications.
The World Anti-Doping Agency prohibits the use of DHEA supplements among competitive and collegiate athletes. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplement.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your healthcare provider may order a DHEAS test if you have symptoms that indicate your body is making too much or too little of this hormone. Your body needs DHEAS to produce androgens and estrogen. Women who make too much DHEAS may develop PCOS or characteristics like facial hair. Boys with high DHEAS levels may start puberty too soon. DHEAS levels can also affect your sex drive and reproductive health.
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