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Testosterone for Women

Examples

Generic Name
Testosterone
Methyltestosterone

Testosterone is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating sexual problems in women. At this time, there is no testosterone pill, patch, or cream approved for women in the U.S. Those made for men have too high a dose for women. But your doctor may prescribe testosterone in a compounded formula, which is a medicine made just for you by a pharmacist.

How It Works

Testosterone is known as a "male" hormone, or androgen. It also is made in small amounts by a woman's adrenal glands and ovaries. A woman's testosterone is highest around age 20 and slowly declines with age.1

  • In men, testosterone is linked to male physical traits and sex drive.
  • In women, testosterone may be linked to sex drive. But for women, interest in sex is much more complicated than just testosterone levels.

Testosterone therapy raises testosterone levels in the body. But testosterone is only FDA-approved for use in men.

Methyltestosterone probably does not work in the body and the brain like natural testosterone does. It does not directly raise a woman's testosterone levels. And it cannot be measured in the blood like natural testosterone.

Why It Is Used

Methyltestosterone. This hormone product is sometimes also prescribed to menopausal women for improving sexual desire and response.

Testosterone is an experimental treatment used to raise a woman's sexual interest, arousal, and satisfaction. Women with low androgen levels who might benefit from low-dose testosterone therapy include those who:

  • Have had their ovaries removed (oophorectomy). This causes a sudden drop in testosterone, which may reduce sex drive and satisfaction.
  • Have a low sex drive that does not seem to be caused by a medicine, nor by relationship or stress-related problems.
  • Have an adrenal system problem or an underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism).

Do not take testosterone if you:

  • Could become pregnant. Taking testosterone while you are pregnant can cause a female fetus to develop male traits.
  • Have or have had breast or uterine cancer.
  • Have high cholesterol or heart disease.
  • Have liver disease.

Some experts advise against using testosterone therapy for women who have not reached menopause.2

How Well It Works

There is not strong enough evidence to support the use of testosterone for improving menopausal symptoms.3 But for women who no longer have ovaries (or whose ovaries are not working), testosterone with estrogen therapy has been shown to slightly increase sexual desire.4

In many women, testosterone may have a direct effect on sex drive and sexual response. Women taking testosterone may have more sexual thoughts, fantasies, activity, and satisfaction.5

There is no solid link between a woman's high testosterone and high sex drive, nor between low sex drive and low testosterone. You can have a low testosterone level in your body and have a normal sex drive or have high testosterone and very little interest in sex.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Hoarseness or a deeper voice.
  • Decreased breast size.
  • An increase in the size of your clitoris.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Hair growth on the face and body.
  • Hair loss on scalp.
  • Acne or oily skin.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Taking testosterone by using a skin patch, gel, or cream does not seem to affect cholesterol levels, but taking it by mouth does. This is because hormones taken by mouth are processed through the liver. Hormones taken through the skin are not processed by the liver.6 At this time, there are no FDA-approved testosterone products for women.

Testosterone treatment for longer than 6 months has not been studied. Experts do not yet know whether it raises risks of breast cancer, heart disease, or dangerous blood clots. It may increase these risks, because some testosterone in the body is made into estrogen. Higher-than-normal estrogen in the body is linked to these risks.6

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Basson R (2008). Women’s sexuality and sexual dysfunction. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 742–758. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2011). Female sexual dysfunction. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 119. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 117(4): 996–1007.
  3. Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Menopause and perimenopausal transition. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 673–748. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  4. Drugs for female sexual dysfunction (2010). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 52(1353/1354): 100–102.
  5. Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Postmenopausal hormone therapy. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 749–857. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  6. Basaria S, Dobs AS (2004). Safety and adverse effects of androgens: How to counsel patients. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 79(Suppl): S25–S32.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of June 4, 2014

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