We’ve all heard what can happen in men with low testosterone. And, most of us associate testosterone with men, but women’s bodies also produce testosterone.
Did you know that women can be equally affected by low testosterone levels? Low testosterone in women can impact:
- Sex drive
- Red blood cell production
- Muscle mass
- Fat distribution
Surprised? Don’t worry. It’s not uncommon for women to be surprised when they learn how much testosterone affects their well-being.
Ready to learn more about how testosterone affects your body. Let’s start a women and testosterone 101 lesson to catch you up.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a steroid (a hormone) the medical community often refers to as the male sex hormone.
In women, their bodies produce it in small amounts in their:
- Adrenal glands
- Peripheral tissues
And, when combined with estrogen (the female sex hormone), testosterone supports the growth, maintenance, and repair of:
- Bone mass
- Women’s reproductive tissues
- Human behaviors
So, How Does Testosterone Benefit Women?
Normal, healthy testosterone levels are essential in support of several female body functions, including:
- Supporting the maintenance and growth of bone tissue
- Increasing and maintaining muscle mass
- Decreasing the amount of fat storage (particularly in post-menopausal women)
- Promoting a healthy sex drive or libido
- Decreasing the risk of vaginal atrophy
- Supporting cardiovascular health
When the body isn’t making enough testosterone, these functions are affected, and symptoms appear. They may seem slow at first and pile up over time, or they may hit you all at once.
Women who have low testosterone levels can suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased sexual satisfaction
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of bone density
- Sleep disturbances
- Reduced sex drive
- Weight gain
- Fertility issues
Consequently, too little testosterone may contribute to a variety of health conditions, including:
- Pelvic floor insufficiency
Is Aging a Common Cause of Low Testosterone in Women?
As women age, their bodies produce less testosterone. In fact, by menopause, a woman’s body produces up to 50% less testosterone than during her teens and early 20’s. Decreasing testosterone levels can lead to physical and behavioral changes.
What Causes of Low Testosterone in Women?
Because women’s bodies produce testosterone in the following systems, any disruption in the function of these organs and tissues may disrupt testosterone levels.
- Peripheral tissues
Additional causes of lowered testosterone levels in women include:
- Oophorectomy (the surgical removal of the ovaries)
- Taking oral estrogen therapy
Diagnosing Low Testosterone in Women
Because they are so common, the symptoms of low testosterone in women are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
For example, providers may identify low testosterone as:
- The side effects of menopausal changes in women
Providers can use a blood test to test a woman’s testosterone levels. However, it isn’t easy to make a definitive diagnosis since hormone levels naturally fluctuate.
Testosterone And Sexual Dysfunction
Researchers are still trying to understand sexual dysfunction, especially in women. They are confident, however, that menopause brings with it a loss of sexual desire.
Not only does menopause bring a whole host of mental and emotional challenges, but it brings along mechanical problems like:
These symptoms are due to the abrupt loss of natural estrogen. This can be easily dealt with for many women by using hormone replacement therapy to increase estrogen levels back to their optimum.
Lack of arousal, desire, and orgasms are often not helped by estrogen hormone replacement therapy alone.
This has prompted researchers to look at how women’s testosterone levels affect sexual arousal and desire. Hence, why they use testosterone replacement therapy to treat women with low testosterone.
What Is Testosterone Replacement Therapy?
Although testosterone is not yet commonly prescribed in clinical practice, its use is on the rise. There are several ways women can receive testosterone replacement therapy.
None is better than the other. The delivery system you use depends on your provider’s recommendation and personal preferences.
Providers replace testosterone using:
- Topical gels
- Transdermal patches
- Oral formulations
Both synthetic and bio-identical forms of testosterone are available for testosterone replacement therapy. However, we avoid using synthetic hormones to prevent unwanted side effects whenever possible.
Although the FDA has approved certain testosterone treatments for men, it has not approved them for use in women. Therefore, when providers prescribe testosterone for women, it is considered off-label use.
Off-label use is when a provider prescribes a medication for a disease or medical condition that it is not approved to treat.
- Off-label prescribing is a legal practice.
- An estimated 1 out of every five prescriptions are written for off-label use.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy Benefits for Women
Just because the FDA has not approved testosterone replacement therapy for women, doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer great benefits!
Many providers prescribe testosterone replacement therapy to women who have low testosterone for these results:
- Charged up stamina
- Enhanced strength
- Boosted energy
- Increased vitality
- Sparked up sex drive
- Reduction of fatigue
- Decrease in depression symptoms
You will likely notice these effects within a few days of starting testosterone replacement therapy.
There is also promising evidence that testosterone replacement therapy for women can:
- Decrease risk of heart attack or stroke
- Decrease risk of obesity
- Strengthen bones
- Improve cognition
- Contribute to a healthier libido
- Better your mood
What Are the Side Effects of Too Much Testosterone?
As with every medical treatment, there can be side effects. However, the side effects of testosterone replacement therapy have more to do with using too much.
Finding a balance with any hormone replacement therapy takes time. Providers tend to start out with small doses and build up over time. And it’s rare that you would have too much in your system.
But if by some chance you do, too much testosterone could cause acne and unwanted hair growth. These side effects would go away after the provider lowered the dosage.
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