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A female’s testosterone levels fluctuate throughout life, the menstrual cycle, and at different times of day. Low testosterone levels can affect the production of new blood cells, sex drive, and other hormone levels.
Testosterone belongs to a group of hormones known as androgens. Testosterone levels affect:
- sex drive
- red blood cell production
- muscle mass and fat distribution
Most people think of testosterone as a male sex hormone, but everyone requires a certain amount. While males have more testosterone than females, female adrenal glands and ovaries produce small amounts of this hormone.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, a female should have a total of 15–70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl) of testosterone in her blood. At this time, there are no conclusive guidelines for what should be considered “low” testosterone levels in females.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Low testosterone can cause one or more of the following symptoms in females:
- muscle weakness
- sleep disturbances
- reduced sex drive
- decreased sexual satisfaction
- weight gain
- fertility issues
- irregular menstrual cycles
- vaginal dryness
- loss of bone density
It is important to note that research in this area is still limited.
Because the symptoms linked to low testosterone are so common, a doctor will look for signs of other issues or conditions before making a diagnosis.
The doctor may check for:
The two main causes of low testosterone are:
- diminishing levels of the hormone as a normal result of menopause and aging
- problems with the ovaries or the pituitary or adrenal glands.
Around the time that menopause begins, a female may be more likely to have less testosterone because the ovaries are producing fewer hormones.
Also, medications that combat the side effects of menopause can lower testosterone levels. One such medicine is oral estrogen.
Problems with the
There is currently a lack of research into the treatment of low testosterone in females. Many doctors are much more concerned about testosterone levels that are too high.
In 2014, a task force recommended against routinely measuring testosterone levels in females, as research has yet to prove a link between testosterone levels and symptoms.
If a female reports any of the symptoms listed above, a doctor will likely check for other, more common, conditions first.
To diagnose low testosterone in females, a doctor will start with a physical exam and ask about any symptoms. If the doctor suspects low testosterone, they will order a blood test.
If a female has not yet reached menopause, the doctor will likely advise on the best time to test the testosterone levels. This is because they fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.
Some estrogen replacement drugs contain testosterone.
However, the quantity of testosterone in the drugs may not be enough to raise levels, or the body may not be able to absorb them sufficiently.
A doctor may administer testosterone injections or pellets, expecting these treatments to have the same effect on males as on males: raising energy levels, decreasing fatigue, and increasing the sex drive.
However, many doctors advise females not to take testosterone. Likewise, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved few testosterone-based treatments for females. This is because the side effects can include:
The 2014 task force advised against treating low testosterone levels in females due to a lack of research. However, they noted as an exception that females with a condition called hypoactive sexual desire disorder should receive treatment.
A doctor may instead recommend alternative therapies to treat the symptoms of low testosterone in females. These treatments and lifestyle changes can include:
- sex therapy
- taking steps to manage stress
- getting enough sleep
- eating a healthful diet
- taking over-the-counter dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplements
DHEA is a steroid hormone that is also produced by the adrenal glands. Supplements are also available to purchase online. The Endocrine Society advise against routine supplementation with DHEA, however, as researchers have yet to prove that supplementation is safe and efficient in the long term.
The side effects of DHEA supplementation can be similar to those of excess testosterone.
Doctors and researchers still do not fully understand how low testosterone levels affect females or how best to treat the deficiency.
Testosterone levels change as a person ages, and they may drop as a female approaches menopause.
If a female experiences symptoms of low testosterone, the results of a blood test can help a doctor to make a diagnosis.
Never take testosterone replacement therapy without a doctor’s recommendation. Supplements and replacement therapies may cause more unpleasant side effects than they relieve.