What is low testosterone in women?
Women produce testosterone in several locations in their bodies. These include the:
Because the ovaries are a major producer of testosterone, the decrease in hormones produced by the ovaries associated with menopause means that some pre- and post-menopausal women may experience low testosterone levels. Traditionally, decreases in libido have been attributed to post-menopausal drops in estrogen. However, researchers are identifying more and more links between decreased testosterone production and affected libido.
In many women, the ovaries continue to produce hormones like testosterone. Therefore, doctors suggest that some women with low testosterone may have something in their genetic makeup that affects their ability to produce the compounds DHEA and DHEA-S, which are the precursors to testosterone. Some women may also be deficient in enzymes that process DHEA and DHEA-S into testosterone.
Other possible causes of low testosterone in women include:
adrenal insufficiency, where the adrenal glands don’t work as well as they should
history of oophorectomy, or the surgical removal of the ovaries
taking oral estrogen therapy, as estrogen can reduce the production of testosterone
What are the treatments for low testosterone in women?
Treatments for low testosterone in women haven’t been largely studied by medical experts. While doctors know about the effects of excess testosterone in women, the symptoms of too-little testosterone aren’t as well known. As a result, doctors don’t always have the same regimen for treatments related to low testosterone levels.
Doctors may prescribe a medication called Estratest in post-menopausal women. This medicine has both estrogen as well as testosterone in it. However, the testosterone form is a synthetic one and may not be as effective in treating low testosterone.
Doctors can also administer injections of testosterone and medical researchers are currently studying the effects of testosterone patches and pellets implanted in the skin. Some women may also obtain testosterone gel formulations from compounding pharmacies. However, these gels are traditionally used for men that have much higher average testosterone levels than when compared with women.
An over-the-counter option is taking a DHEA supplement. Because DHEA is a precursor to testosterone, the idea is that if someone takes DHEA, they could increase the amount of testosterone in their body. Speak with your doctor before starting a DHEA supplement as treatment for low testosterone.
Having too much testosterone in your body can also cause side effects. Side effects of excess testosterone use in women include:
Masculine physical characteristics, including male-pattern balding and deepened voice
Women who are or may be pregnant shouldn’t take androgens. Women who are breastfeeding also shouldn’t take testosterone medications as it could pass on to the child.
You should always talk to your doctor before starting any testosterone or related medications and supplements. They’ll be able to provide tests and make sure that there are no interactions with other medications you take.
Androgen deficiency in women. (2017). https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/androgen-deficiency-in-women
Guay A, et al. (2003). Testosterone insufficiency in women: fact or fiction? http://www.bumc.bu.edu/sexualmedicine/publications/testosterone-insufficiency-in-women-fact-or-fiction/
Testosterone. (2016). https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/testosterone/tab/test/
What does testosterone do? (2017). http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/testosterone