Unhealthy Testosterone Levels In Women: Causes And Symptoms

unhealthy-testosterone-levels-in-women-some-causes-and-symptoms

Introduction

Testosterone is a hormone classified as an androgen or a male hormone. Despite that though, it is found in both males and females. Testosterone levels in women can be noticed in the ovaries, adrenal glands, fat cells, and skin cells.

The normal quantity of testosterone in women is 1/10th to 1/20th to that of males and usually ranges from 10 to 60 nanograms per deciliter of blood. Levels higher or lower than that can produce undesirable effects and in severe cases can lead to infertility.

Just like in men, testosterone has many important roles to play in a woman’s sexual and general well-being. Therefore, it is very important to identify causes and treat symptoms of its high or low levels.

Read on to find out the various causes that lead to unhealthy levels of testosterone in women and the symptoms associated with them.

What Causes High Levels of Testosterone in Women?

Some women may have naturally higher levels of testosterone since birth. Their bodies are adapted to those increased amounts of the hormone and usually do not display adverse symptoms. However, for most women, high T levels are a sign of some underlying pathology.

The most common causes of high testosterone in women are:

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)

CAH refers to a group of hereditary disorders that affect the adrenal glands and is characterized by high serum testosterone levels.

The adrenal glands are a pair of triangular-shaped glands located on top of your kidneys. Regulated by the pituitary gland, they produce several important hormones that affect normal biological functions in human beings.

In CAH, there is usually an enzyme deficiency since birth which leads to a lack of cortisol production. To make up for this, the pituitary goes into overdrive and produces higher amounts of Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn stimulates the adrenals to secrete an excess of androgens.

Doctors prescribe blood tests to measure cortisol, androgen as well as 17-OHP levels to diagnose congenital adrenal hyperplasia. They might also ask you to take an ACTH stimulation test to determine the type of CAH you have.

Hirsutism

This disorder is characterized by unwanted male-pattern hair growth on a woman’s face, chest, and back. Extra hair growth is primarily due to an increased level of testosterone.

Hirsutism is associated with increased androgen production either from the ovaries or adrenals or increased stimulation of the end organs, that is, hair follicles. Due to these, there is excessive hair growth during puberty, pregnancy, and following menopause.

While the symptoms are mostly diagnostic by themselves, some additional tests may be done to confirm whether or not you have hirsutism. These include blood tests and a pelvic exam.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome or disease, you may experience amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), hirsutism, and obesity due to increased androgen levels. The main source of excess androgen production, in this case, is the ovary.

Along with an increase in size and volume of the ovaries, multiple cysts (fluid-containing follicles) also appear inside them. These changes appear on an ultrasound.

Your doctor will diagnose PCOS based on a combination of symptoms, blood tests, a physical exam, and the aforementioned pelvic ultrasound.

Tumors

Too much testosterone can be caused by the presence of tumors, either of the adrenal glands or the ovaries.

These tumors are very rare, however, and simply detecting high levels of androgens in the blood might not point to their occurrence. More often than not, diagnosis requires careful testing aimed at the specific type of tumor. These include testing for DHEA-s, urine ketosteroids, and testosterone as well as a CAT scan or MRI.

Symptoms of High Testosterone Women

Elevated T levels can lead to the development of several symptoms in women based on the cause. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

Symptoms of High Testosterone Levels in Women Due to CAH

At birth, CAH can present in the form of:

  • Anatomical abnormalities like an enlarged clitoris and fusion of the labia minora
  • Ambiguity of sex at birth

Around puberty and during early adult life, you may experience the following symptoms if you have increased levels of testosterone due to CAH:

  • Absence of menstruation
  • Irregular periods
  • Deepening of voice
  • Early and excess appearance of pubic hair
  • Rapid growth during childhood that does not translate into appropriate height as an adult
  • Severe acne
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Reduced breast size

Symptoms of High Testosterone Due to Hirsutism

The main symptoms that occur due to hirsutism are:

  • Excess body hair
  • Excess facial hair
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Male-pattern hair growth (dark and coarse hair)
  • Acne

Symptoms of High Testosterone Due to PCOS

When high T levels are owing to PCOS, you may notice these symptoms:

  • Decreased flow during periods
  • Lack of periods
  • Disturbed uterine bleeding (DUB)
  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Acne
  • Increased obesity
  • Darkening of the skin around the back of your neck, inner thighs, underarms, and groin
  • Insulin resistance (high insulin levels in the blood)
  • Infertility

Symptoms of High Testosterone Due to Tumors

If tumors are causing increased levels of testosterone in women, they might have:

  • Ambiguous external genitals at birth
  • Deeper than normal voice
  • Increased hair growth
  • Acne

If you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should visit a physician. They are likely to suggest some tests to determine what is causing your testosterone levels to drop and based on that, they will start your treatment.

Moving forward, not just too much but also too little testosterone in women can be unhealthy. We have seen the numerous reasons that can lead to elevated T levels. Let us now take a look at what causes testosterone levels to fall.

Causes of Low Testosterone Levels in Women

Similar to the detection of high testosterone levels, low T levels can also be diagnosed using blood tests. They can be caused due to:

Long-term Hormonal Contraceptive Use

Most women use hormonal contraceptives at one point or another during the sexually active period of their lives. While they are highly effective and safe forms of birth control, their continued use for a long time can lead to a drop in testosterone levels.

Ovarian or Adrenal Insufficiency

When the ovaries or the adrenal glands become hypoactive, they might produce low amounts of hormones. This can lead to low levels of testosterone in women.

In the case of suspected ovarian insufficiency, a pregnancy test combined with serum FSH and estrogen levels is done to confirm the diagnosis.

On the other hand, to detect or confirm adrenal insufficiency, an ACTH stimulation test is conducted.

Removed Ovaries

Ovaries produce a significant amount of testosterone in women. Therefore, if you’ve had surgery to remove your ovaries, your T levels may fall below normal.

Menopause

Menopause is usually associated with decreased amounts of estrogen in female bodies. That said, certain studies have linked menopause to lowered testosterone levels as well.

Underactive Pituitary Gland

As mentioned earlier, the pituitary gland plays an important role in the regulation of hormone synthesis from the adrenals. Naturally, if the gland becomes hypoactive for some reason, it will not be able to stimulate the adrenals to produce sufficient amounts of testosterone, leading to low T levels.

Your doctor will ask you to take basal hormone level tests if he/she suspects that there is a problem with your pituitary.

Symptoms of Low Testosterone Levels in Women

Low levels of testosterone manifest in the form of the following symptoms in women:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep
  • Decreased libido (sexual drive)
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Problems with fertility
  • Irregular menses
  • Dryness of skin and vagina
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Osteoporosis

If you discover that your testosterone levels are low, you can try diet and lifestyle modifications. Resistance training is also a great way to increase testosterone levels. In addition to this, it is advisable to take advice from your healthcare provider to see what treatment options you can undertake.

Testosterone Levels in Women : Wrapping up

Testosterone is not only a key hormone for men but also for women. Its higher or lower than normal amounts lead to the appearance of many adverse effects.

Understanding the causes behind these abnormal levels of the hormone and identifying the symptoms that occur as a result, thus becomes very important.

In this article, we have discussed all the major causes and symptoms of unhealthy levels of testosterone in women. Hopefully, it will help you find out if you have high or low levels and lead you to take steps to manage them.

Here are few exercises to increase testosterone naturally in men, but they will just as well help women raise their T levels.