Testosterone is a hormone known as androgen. Even though it is often considered a "male" hormone, women also have testosterone in their bodies.
Having too much or too little testosterone is an imbalance that can affect the overall health of a woman. Testosterone plays many different roles in a woman’s body such as:
- produces new blood cells
- Increases libido
- Influences follicle-stimulating hormones that may affect reproduction.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, Australia; how much a woman produces testosterone depends on her age. The androgen levels of a woman who is in her 40s have decreased by half.
Doctors are still researching a lot about low testosterone levels in women and treatments for low testosterone levels. However, new treatments are being studied that can help women who have low levels of testosterone.
What are the symptoms of a low testosterone level in women?
Some of the symptoms linked to low levels of testosterone in women are:
- affected sexual satisfaction
- affected sexual desire
- depressive mood
- weakness in the muscles
In most cases, the symptoms of low testosterone levels in women are either misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed. Some of the conditions for which a low testosterone level can be confused are: depression, stress, and the side effects of menopausal changes.
Doctors can use a blood test to test the testosterone levels in a woman. The numbers that determine if the testosterone levels in a woman are high or low may vary depending on the lab that performs the test. According to the Boston University School of Medicine in 2002, if a woman is under 50 years old, and her testosterone level is below 25 ng/dL, it is considered a low level of testosterone. Testosterone levels below 20 ng/dL in women age 50 and older are considered low.
Doctors may find it difficult to detect low levels of testosterone in women because their hormone levels fluctuate constantly on a daily basis. If a woman still has her period, it would be ideal if she takes the blood testosterone test about 8 to 20 days after the onset of her menstrual period.
What causes low levels of testosterone in women?
Women produce testosterone in several places in their bodies. These include the:
- adrenal glands
- peripheral tissues
Because the ovaries are a major producer of testosterone, some women may experience low levels of testosterone before and after the menopause due to the decrease in hormones produced by the ovaries associated with menopause. Conventionally, a decreased libido has been attributed to low estrogen levels after menopause. However, researchers identify a relationship between decreased libido and low levels of testosterone.
In many women, the ovaries continue to produce hormones such as testosterone. Therefore, physicians suggest that some women with low levels of testosterone may have something in their DNA that interferes with their ability to produce the compounds DHEA and DHEA-S, which are the precursors to testosterone. Some women may have low levels of enzymes that convert DHEA and DHEA-S into testosterone.
Other possible causes of low testosterone levels in women are:
- adrenal insufficiency, in which the adrenal glands do not function as they should
- history of oophorectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries
- early menopause
- taking oral estrogen therapy, because estrogen can reduce the production of testosterone
How can low testosterone levels in women be treated?
Medical experts haven’t studied how to treat low levels of testosterone in women. While doctors are aware of how women are affected by an excess of testosterone levels, the symptoms of too little testosterone levels are not well known. As a result, doctors don’t use the same treatment for low levels of testosterone in women.
Doctors may prescribe a drug called Estratest in post-menopausal women. This medicine contains both testosterone and estrogen. However, the testosterone form is synthetic and may not be as effective in the treatment of low testosterone.
Doctors can also administer testosterone injections, and researchers are investigating the effects of testosterone pellets and patches implanted in the skin. Some women may also get testosterone gel formulations from compounding pharmacies. However, these gels are often used for men with much higher average testosterone levels than women.
An over-the-counter option is taking a DHEA supplement. Since DHEA is a precursor of testosterone, the idea is that someone taking DHEA can increase the levels of testosterone in his or her body. Talk to your doctor before taking a DHEA supplement to treat low testosterone levels.
Too much testosterone in your body can also cause side effects. Side effects of excessive testosterone use in women are:
- facial hair
- fluid retention
- Male physical features, including balding in men and deepened voice
Pregnant women and women who will become pregnant should not take androgens. Women who are breastfeeding also shouldn’t take any drugs for testosterone because this could be transmitted to the child.
Before you decide to take any testosterone medications or supplements, make sure to talk to your doctor. They can provide certain tests and make sure other medications don’t interact with testosterone medications.
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