Although most women are familiar with the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone, they may be surprised to learn testosterone also plays a vital role in a woman’s health and wellbeing.
The ovaries and adrenal glands produce a only small amount of testosterone, but the hormone is so important that even small changes in testosterone levels can dramatically impact the way the body functions.
When testosterone levels are low, a woman may lose interest in sex and experience lower sexual satisfaction. Other symptoms associated with low testosterone include hot flashes; vaginal dryness; urinary urgency, frequency or incontinence; mood swings and loss of energy.
“Women naturally produce much less testosterone than men, and female levels of the hormone begin to decrease during perimenopause, says Nathan Thomas, M.D. of Dallas Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Long-term oral contraceptive use also reduces testosterone levels. The medications stimulate the production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which binds with testosterone reducing circulating levels of the hormone.”
Surgical removal of the ovaries and some cancer therapies can also lead to low testosterone in women.
Simple blood tests can be used to determine testosterone levels. If levels are low, testosterone replacement therapy is a way to restore hormonal balance and reduce unpleasant symptoms.
Testosterone is available in creams, gels, patches, pills or implantable pellet forms. Some women experience an improvement in symptoms as early as 24 hours after therapy is started, while others require one to two weeks of therapy to see results.
“Testosterone replacement therapy is extremely effective in the treatment of low testosterone. However, treatment should only be administered under the supervision of a physician experienced in hormone therapy, since inappropriate dosing can result in a number of side effects,” says Dr. Thomas.