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Testosterone - not just for men

We debunk the myth that testosterone is just for men and look at the effects of testosterone on women and menopause.

WHAT IS TESTOSTERONE? 

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone [1], produced in different areas of male and female bodies – in the tests or in the ovaries. Both sexes also make small quantities in the adrenal glands alongside other hormones, like cortisol. Hormones are chemical messengers that send signals from the brain to different glands and organs to keep the body functioning correctly.  

 Testosterone is involved in many different processes in the body, including: 

  • Regulating sex drive (libido) 
  • Bone mass 
  • Fat distribution 
  • Muscle mass and strength 

In males, testosterone aids in the development of male sex organs before birth. At puberty, it supports the development of secondary sex characteristics, such as facial and body hair, voice deepening, and increased penis and testes size.  

As testosterone is called a male sex hormone, it gives the false impression that it isn’t important for females – which isn’t true. Testosterone plays many vital roles in females, perhaps, especially as a treatment for menopause.  

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF TESTOSTERONE IN WOMEN? 

Testosterone in females is critical because it's converted into oestrogen, the primary female sex hormone.

In both sexes, testosterone:  

  • Aids the production of new blood cells 
  • Helps to maintain strong bones 
  • Develops lean muscle  
  • Contributes to libido 
  • Supports an overall sense of well-being 

According to the British Menopause Society (BMS), testosterone deficiency can lead to heightened menopausal symptoms. 

Symptoms of low testosterone in women include: 

  • Low sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm  
  • A reduction in general quality of life 
  • Tiredness, depression, headaches, cognitive problems 
  • Osteoporosis and sarcopenia  

Testosterone for the menopause 

Since Davina McCall’s recent TV programme on menopause, many women have made a mental note to find out whether testosterone could be the answer to their menopausal symptoms.  

This movement is happening more and more as people realise that testosterone isn’t just important for males. The Times recently described it as part of a holy trinity of hormones made by the ovaries, along with oestrogen and progesterone.  

Can my GP prescribe testosterone for menopause? 

Too little or too much testosterone can affect a woman’s overall health. Yet, there are no testosterone products licensed in the UK for female use.   

NICE guidelines state that testosterone can be considered for people who need it. So, if the prescriber is familiar with the treatment and is willing to prescribe it ‘off licence’ then it may be offered. Some clinicians prefer not to take this decision and may refer you to a specialist for advice before prescribing.  

Even if you are going through menopause and have symptoms, it may not be quite as easy as walking into the GP and asking for testosterone to be prescribed. 

When you visit your GP, you can expect them to: 

  • Do further tests – such as a blood test to rule out any other conditions that could be causing similar symptoms, such as a thyroid condition
  • Refer you to a specialist such as an endocrinologist who can further investigate your hormones and symptoms. 

And if you are going through menopause and have symptoms, your GP should most certainly be your first point of contact. 

If you have questions about your menopausal status, our Menopause Blood Test could give you some answers. If you’d like to check your testosterone levels alongside key female hormones, our Female Hormone Blood Test can help you monitor these levels (which could be helpful if you are taking hormone replacement therapy – HRT).    

What are the possible adverse effects of testosterone therapy? 

Higher doses of testosterone may lead to unwanted effects, such as aches and occasional hair growth. Discuss the dosage with your doctor, and never use more than the recommended amount.  

Reported side effects for testosterone therapy vary significantly - perhaps because absorption, sensitivity, and metabolism of testosterone vary from person to person. The main causes of adverse effects are because of the lack of information about testosterone for females, resulting in confusion among patients and healthcare professionals. 

If you’d like to find out more about how testosterone treatment is given, visit the Women’s Health Concern’s page on testosterone for women.   

Testosterone and PCOS 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in women that affects the ovaries, resulting in cysts on the ovaries that can become enlarged. 

PCOS is common and affects around seven in every 100 women in the UK. Investigations of PCOS focus initially on medical history, the incidence of irregular periods (or none at all), and the existence of high levels of male hormones (like testosterone) in the body. 

Although the exact cause of PCOS is not known, it is thought that abnormal male hormone levels in women prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. Many women with PCOS have raised testosterone levels.  

High levels of testosterone in the body can cause: 

  • Excess body hair - specifically facial hair 
  • Acne 
  • Balding around the hairline 
  • Deepening of the voice 
  • Irregular periods 
  • Low mood  
  • Low libido 

Low levels of testosterone in the body can lead to:  

  • Fatigue 
  • Weight gain 
  • Low mood  
  • Low libido 
  • Osteoporosis  
  • Hair loss 

Our Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Blood Test is for any women experiencing symptoms of PCOS who would like to investigate further. An imbalance in testosterone levels can also indicate other underlying conditions, such as diabetes or a thyroid disorder

HOW CAN I CHECK MY TESTOSTERONE LEVELS? 

If you are experiencing any symptoms of low or high testosterone, then a simple blood test could indicate whether your testosterone levels are to blame.  

As well as our Testosterone blood test, our Male Hormone Blood Test and Female Hormone Blood Tests are excellent profiles measuring key hormone levels in the blood including: 

  • Total and free testosterone (calculated) 
  • Oestradiol 
  • Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)  

These tests empower you with the knowledge to take action and find out if testosterone is to blame for any symptoms. 

Where to find out more about menopause? 

Menopause is a natural phase of life that all women go through. Despite this, it is rarely a topic of open discussion, which may contribute to feelings of fear, shame, and uncertainty around the subject. 

If you’d like to know more, read our articles on: 

Menopause Blood Test 

If you’re experiencing symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, or erratic periods, then you may be interested in checking your menopausal and thyroid status. 

Our Menopause Blood Test includes five hormones to assess your menopausal status, including thyroid hormones as symptoms of a thyroid-related condition can be similar to those of menopause.


References 

  1. Nassar GN, Leslie SW. Physiology, Testosterone. [Updated 2022 Jan 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526128/> [Accessed 10 May 2022]