In This Article
In This Article
Women who have high testosterone levels may experience a variety of symptoms. These include unwanted hair growth and weight changes and can lead to even more severe medical complications.
These may affect reproductive health because of the impact on fertility and even mental health through negative body image.
Yes, they do.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone that gives biological males their traditionally “masculine” characteristics.
However, testosterone is also produced by the ovaries and adrenals in biological women. It plays a role in the development of those assigned female at birth (AFAB) and is also important for the maintenance of bone mass.
Women produce much less testosterone than men. The normal range of testosterone for women is 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter of blood. In comparison, the normal range for men is 300 to 1000 nanograms per deciliter of blood.1
The most common symptom of high testosterone in a woman is excess hair growth.
This can be in the form of excess facial hair or body hair growth, particularly on the chest, back, or armpits. This is similar in nature to the excessive hair growth in biological males who undergo puberty. When it occurs in women, it is called hirsutism and is characterized by coarse hair.
At the same time, high testosterone levels in women can also cause hair thinning at the scalp. This is because around 10% of testosterone in the body is converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT plays a role in the development of male sex characteristics but also causes hair loss in high concentrations.2
Excess testosterone can also cause acne.3 Testosterone increases sebum production in oil glands which may cause pimples. This is why many teenagers undergoing puberty are prone to acne breakouts.
Another effect of high testosterone concentrations in women is an irregular menstrual cycle.
The normal role of testosterone in the menstrual cycle is to increase libido in women. When hormone levels are not balanced, however, this can disrupt the cycle.
High testosterone levels can lead to irregular periods or even missed periods.4 Testosterone can increase the length of a cycle as well. High levels of androgens, which include testosterone, also negatively affect the chances of conception.5
As testosterone levels rise in women, there is also an increased risk for insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to potential weight gain.6
Insulin resistance happens when the insulin your body makes fail to properly move sugar to your cells. Once the sugar is in the cells, it’s used as fuel. When it doesn’t get transported properly, it can cause high blood sugar levels and more sugar to be stored as fat.
This can also lead to other complications, such as the development of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic risks.
Both high and low levels of testosterone can cause weight gain, which is why any irregularities in testosterone levels need to be addressed.
Testosterone plays a part in the development of muscle mass as well.7 This is not, however, automatic without exercise.
Rather, high testosterone levels promote an increased rate and amount of muscle growth. This also depends on your diet, including protein intake.
Dihydrotestosterone can affect the size and thickness of the larynx, also known as the voice box. Excessively high testosterone can cause voice deepening in women. This mimics the voice deepening that biological males go through when undergoing puberty.
Though this is typically not a harmful effect of high testosterone in women, it may be a sign to see your doctor. They may ask you to undergo tests to determine any imbalances.
This may also not affect all women with high testosterone. Research suggests that some women may not experience voice changes even with testosterone therapy.8
Increasing libido is testosterone’s normal function, even in women with normal testosterone levels.
As the hormone increases, a similar increase in libido may be experienced. Testosterone therapy is a common treatment for decreased libido in postmenopausal women.
Testosterone imbalance may also have an effect on female reproductive tissue. A larger-than-average clitoris mirrors the penile growth in men undergoing puberty. Some women also experience reduced breast size.
The most common cause of high testosterone in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).9
The name comes from the development of cysts in the ovaries. These cysts negatively impact the normal hormone production of the ovaries. Altogether, it causes hormonal imbalances that, in turn, affect metabolic function.10
Polycystic ovary syndrome causes an overproduction of male sex hormones in the ovaries. PCOS can sometimes cause irregular periods, painful period cramps, and even infertility in women. It is also associated with physical signs like hirsutism, acne, and weight gain.
As many as 6% to 12% of women are affected with PCOS with varying severity.11
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia is a genetic disease of the adrenal glands. It is diagnosed in babies as part of normal newborn screening in hospitals.
Classic or severe CAH causes the body to produce too little cortisol and aldosterone while producing too much testosterone. Classic or severe CAH affects 1 in every 10,000 people.12
High testosterone levels in women have been linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance.9
The reverse is also true, as insulin resistance also causes the ovaries to produce more testosterone. Type 2 diabetes may also lead to high testosterone in women.
Hormone therapy is a deliberate way to increase testosterone in women. This is done in the masculinization process or to treat other health concerns.
Hormone therapy may still cause negative symptoms even if the increase is intentional.
Many women who have normal testosterone levels may still experience high testosterone symptoms. Testosterone levels can also fluctuate throughout the day or even during the menstrual cycle.
Consult your doctor or health care provider if any symptoms become disruptive.
Testosterone testing is recommended for women who suffer from any of the aforementioned symptoms. Test using the following methods.
The testosterone test is a form of blood test that detects testosterone concentrations in the blood. This can be in the form of a comprehensive blood test or a sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) test.
Monitoring symptoms can also determine testosterone imbalances or other underlying medical conditions. It is possible to treat high testosterone, so detecting signs of it early may reduce the risk for complications.
Other laboratory exams will also be taken to confirm concomitant diseases.
Detecting abnormal testosterone production may also help avoid fertility and reproductive health concerns.
High testosterone levels in women can be treated in various ways.
Targeting related diseases such as PCOS and diabetes may reduce testosterone production in women.
Metformin is a medicine that is prescribed to treat both type 2 diabetes and PCOS by lowering blood sugar levels. This can help in managing testosterone production.13
Glucocorticoids are administered to people with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This is given to replace lacking hormones and decrease overstimulation of the adrenals. 13
Some oral contraceptives may reduce testosterone. The effects of birth control vary from pill to pill, but many of them work by inhibiting all hormone production in the ovaries.14
Such medications should not be taken to treat high testosterone without medical advice.