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Testosterone is a hormone usually associated with men, but it’s also present in women’s bodies. And as is the case with men, when testosterone levels are out of balance in women, it affects their overall health.
What does testosterone do for women?
- Helps with the production of new blood cells
- Influences follicle-stimulating hormones that affect fertility
- Enhances libido and sex drive
- Maintains bone strength and growth
- Increases muscle mass
- Decreases body fat (post-menopausal women)
- Decreases vaginal atrophy
- Might support cardiovascular health
Although issues with testosterone production can happen at any time in a woman’s life, imbalances tend to occur as women get older.
What are the Symptoms of Low Testosterone in Women?
Understanding the value of balanced testosterone is important. However, it’s also important to know the signs of low testosterone in women. If you experience any of the following, it could be an indication of unbalanced testosterone:
- Low libido
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- Poor memory
- Low bone density
- Heart disease
- Dry skin
- Loss of strength
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Vaginal dryness
- Problems sleeping
- Irregular menstrual cycles
There is no guarantee that a woman experiencing these symptoms has low testosterone. It’s important to have a doctor complete an exam and discuss the various conditions that can lead to these issues. Other conditions that mimic low testosterone levels include:
- Thyroid disease
- Chronic stress
In some cases, these conditions are also linked to low testosterone levels and you might need treatment for more than one issue.
Causes of Low Testosterone in Women
The two primary reasons women develop low testosterone levels. They include:
- Problems with the ovaries or adrenal glands or pituitary gland
- Menopause and aging
Women’s testosterone levels naturally decrease over time. This is because the ovaries produce fewer hormones. Medications intended to treat other symptoms of menopause are also linked to a reduction in testosterone.
A younger woman can experience low testosterone long before menopause sets in. Problems with the adrenal glands or the ovaries both play a role in testosterone levels.
Treatment for Low Testosterone
There are several ways to treat low testosterone in women. A combination of several treatments is usually recommended. Treatment includes:
- Improving the quality of sleep
- Drug therapy
- Testosterone supplements
Unfortunately, the side effects of testosterone treatment trigger unwanted side effects in some women. Some of the most common side effects of testosterone treatment include:
- Hair loss
- Deepening voice
- Excess facial hair
- Enlarged clitoris
- Fluid retention
These are symptoms associated with high testosterone levels. A woman supplementing testosterone due to a deficiency might experience the same issues as a woman with naturally occurring elevated testosterone.
Many medical experts warn against women using testosterone supplements because of the side effects. In extreme cases, when low testosterone causes hypoactive sexual desire disorder, treatment might be necessary. But for the natural reduction in testosterone levels, it might be better to use less aggressive treatment options, including:
- Managing stress
- Sex therapy
- Dietary improvements
- Increasing quantity and quality of sleep
- OTC DHEA supplements
DHEA is a steroid hormone naturally produced in the adrenal glands, but it should be noted many of the side effects linked to testosterone supplements are also linked to DHEA.
There is a lack of reliable data regarding low testosterone treatment in women. Medical experts agree supplemental testosterone is necessary for some women, but that the side effets makes it a last resort in many cases.
A common treatment option for women with low testosterone is a drug called Estratest. It’s a combination of synthetic testosterone and estrogen and is typically given to menopausal women. Although some women have had success using the drug, others have found it did little to improve their low testosterone symptoms.
Another common treatment for women is testosterone injections, patches, pellets, or gel. These are the same treatments given to men with low testosterone levels. Many of these products contain high levels of testosterone and result in raising a woman’s testosterone level too much. Although the treatment might improve the symptoms associated with low testosterone, it can lead to a new set of symptoms.
How Do You Know You Have Low Testosterone?
The easiest way to determine if your testosterone levels are out of balance is to undergo medical testing. However, tests administered by a doctor can be expensive and might not be covered by medical insurance. There are at-home hormone tests available that are more reasonably priced.
If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with low testosterone or you are close to entering or you are menopausal, testing your testosterone levels could reveal an imbalance affecting your health.
One of the most effective at-home testing options is the Everlywell Testosterone Test. It provides accurate information you can discuss with your healthcare provider. It’s a great option for people who are struggling to figure out what is causing their symptoms, but who aren’t ready to undergo a full medical evaluation.
The Ultimate Guide to At-Home Hormone Testing: What you need to know.
“Testosterone Therapy in Women: Does It Boost Sex Drive?” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/expert-answers/testosterone-therapy/faq-20057935.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Treating Low Testosterone Levels - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 9 Aug. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/treating-low-testosterone-levels.