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Signs of Low Testosterone in Women and the Negative Effects it Has

Signs of Low Testosterone in Women and the Negative Effects it Has

It's a common misconception that testosterone is only a male hormone. In fact, women also produce testosterone, but in smaller quantities.

So, is it possible that low levels of a hormone you didn't even realize you had could cause negative effects?

Of course! Any hormonal imbalances in the body can cause health problems and other issues. And, although women only produce small amounts of testosterone, this hormone has several important functions in the female body.

Read on to find out more about testosterone in the female body and the negative effects of low testosterone in women.

What is Testosterone?

Testosterone, also known as T, is often referred to as a 'male sex hormone'. T is one of the most important male hormones. Women's bodies also produce testosterone, but at a lower level than men.

Testosterone belongs to a group of hormones called androgens. These are sometimes called steroids or anabolic steroids. As an androgen hormone, women's ovaries and in men's testes produce T. For both sexes, the adrenal glands also make a small amount of testosterone.

Essentially, hormones such as testosterone are 'chemical messengers'. If the body's levels of these important hormones are too low, this can disrupt the body's messages and affect development and behavior.

Functions of Testosterone in Women

Along with estrogen, testosterone is a sex hormone. Both hormones contribute to the maintenance, repair, and growth of reproductive tissues. But, these hormones also influence other body tissues too.

Testosterone plays a vital role in brain function and bone health. This hormone also plays an important role in the development of physical strength and lean muscle mass. And, testosterone helps the body produce new blood cells and influences follicle-stimulating hormones related to reproduction.

Testosterone also influences energy levels and mental focus, and it contributes to a general sense of well-being. But, perhaps most crucial, testosterone has a big effect on female libido.

Normal and Low Levels of Testosterone in Women

The average woman's total testosterone levels are around one-tenth to one-twentieth of typical levels in the average man.

But, the amount and levels of hormones like testosterone can change daily. The female body secretes this sex hormone in short pules. These pulses can vary in intensity and speed throughout the day, and even from minute to minute. Testosterone releases also vary between the night and day, as well as throughout the different stages of a woman's menstrual cycle.

But, as a guide, a woman should have around 20-70 nanograms (ng) per deciliter (dl) of testosterone in her blood.

At present, there is no one conclusive guide to what professionals consider 'low' when it comes to testosterone levels in women. That said, in 2002, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine provided some guidelines. They stated that, for women less than 50 years of age, a testosterone level below 25 ng/dl is low. For women aged 50 years old and over, a testosterone level of less than 20 ng/dl is low.

Often, there are different signs and symptoms that suggest someone has low testosterone levels.

Checklist of Low Testosterone Signs

If you are experiencing seven or more of the following symptoms, you may have low testosterone levels:

  • Fatigue

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Low tolerance for exercise

  • Loss of muscle tone

  • Difficulty maintaining or building muscle

  • Loss of motivation

  • Gaining fat around the abdomen

  • Poor memory or lack of concentration

  • Low mood, depression or anxiety

  • Loss of libido

  • General disinterest in sex

  • Vaginal dryness, lack of physical responsiveness to sex

  • Painful intercourse

  • Irregular menstrual cycles

  • Fertility issues

  • Skin that has lost its fullness, or thinning skin

  • Dry skin

  • Loss of bone density, or osteoporosis

Many of these low testosterone symptoms in women could be signs of other health problems. Regardless of the cause, you should see a doctor to discuss the symptoms you're experiencing and how best to deal with them.

Negative Effects of Low Testosterone in Females

Many women overlook the symptoms of low T. In fact, most doctors do not consider testing female patients for this crucial hormone. This is because low levels are not thought of as an immediate health risk.

But, women with low testosterone can experience the following negative, and often very serious, effects:

Low Energy and Fatigue

The body's energy systems are complicated, so low testosterone levels might not be the only cause if you're lacking energy.

But, if it's becoming a struggle to get through the day, you don't feel rested even after enough sleep, or daily activities leave you feeling drained, testosterone deficiency could be to blame.

Obviously, if you feel like this, your doctor should test various health markers. These include your iron levels, thyroid functioning, and adrenals. Testosterone deficiency in females often goes undetected, even though it could be a contributing factor at the very least.

Mood Swings and Depression

Low levels of testosterone can also lead to unexplained mood swings, poor mood, lack of concentration, and depression.

This is not surprising when considering how testosterone is related to a woman's sense of well-being. Testosterone also plays a role in mood stabilization and motivation and helps with mental focus and attention.

But, doctors rarely consider the effects of low testosterone on mood and focus. As such, these symptoms are often misdiagnosed as depression and treated with antidepressants.

Bone Loss

Working together with estrogen, vitamin K, vitamin D, minerals and various other hormones, testosterone helps to moderate bone loss.

Low levels of testosterone in females can compromise bone density, leading to osteopenia or osteoporosis. Women with osteoporosis are more likely to suffer from broken bones and fractures. These injuries can result in severe complications, especially for older patients.

A testosterone deficiency can also accelerate bone loss in the face. This results in the appearance of premature aging and deterioration of facial structures.

Weight Gain and Inability to Lose Weight

If unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight are problems for a female patient, most doctors would look to the thyroid.

Although doctors have to consider the thyroid, it can often overshadow other hormonal imbalances. As well as a testosterone deficiency, these imbalances could include high estrogen or low progesterone.

The impact low testosterone can have on weight relates its effect on muscle mass. Testosterone is important in building muscle, which is one reason why, in most cases, men find it easier to build muscle than women.

Since muscle mass burns more calories than fat cells, a decrease in muscle mass means less calorie-burning potential. If diet and exercise levels remain the same, this can lead to weight gain. And, even if you adjust your calorie intake and output, weight loss will still be difficult.

Such changes in muscle tone and body composition usually begin to appear when women are around 35 years old. As such, they are often considered a normal part of getting older. In fact, if low testosterone levels are a cause, these changes are treatable and even reversible.

Low Libido

Low libido is more commonly associated with low levels of testosterone in men. But, women can experience more sudden and severe sexual changes as the result of a testosterone deficiency.

These changes can include vaginal dryness, a general disinterest in sex, low libido and painful intercourse. Many women dismiss such changes as part of the aging process. Or, women might consider these symptoms of the changing state of their relationship rather than a hormonal imbalance.

Causes of Low Testosterone Levels in Women

The two main causes of low testosterone in females are:

  • decreasing levels of the hormone as the result of menopause and aging

  • problems with the ovaries, the pituitary gland or adrenal glands

Testosterone production in women decreases with age. By the time a woman is 40 years old, her androgen levels have reduced by half. Then, by the time that menopause begins, women tend to have less testosterone. This is because their ovaries are producing fewer hormones.

Also, medications prescribed to combat the side effects of menopause, such as oral estrogen, can decrease testosterone levels.

Problems with the ovaries, pituitary gland or adrenal glands can also affect testosterone levels. If a woman has had her ovaries removed, reduced testosterone levels are likely. Similarly, adrenal insufficiency, where the adrenal glands do not work correctly, can cause low T.

The Negative Effects of Low Testosterone in Women

Low testosterone in women can affect many aspects of a woman's life. And, as it often goes undetected, there is still a lot to discover about the links between female testosterone deficiency and the symptoms listed here.

If you're suffering from any of these symptoms or negative effects, it is worth considering that low testosterone in women could be the underlying cause.

For more information and advice, feel free to contact us with any questions or queries.

About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

8 min read