What is Testosterone?

I spend a considerable amount of time each week talking to women about HRT and also about testosterone. Testosterone is one of the sex hormones that women produce. Many people think of it as the “male” hormone which is correct, but women need to have testosterone too. In fact, women produce three times as much testosterone than oestrogen before the menopause.

Levels of testosterone in your body gradually reduce as you become older and reduce very abruptly in those women who have had an oophorectomy (an operation in which their ovaries are removed). When women’s levels of testosterone decrease, women may find that they desire sex less often and when they do have sex, it is not as pleasurable as it used to be, even though they still desire their partner.  There is some evidence also that having lower testosterone levels can also affect your mood and increase your risk of being depressed.

What symptoms can testosterone help with?

Even a very small amount of testosterone can really help with a woman’s emotions and energy. Testosterone can be very beneficial at improving general well-being, mood, energy, concentration and also sex drive (or libido). It can also provide benefits to the skin and hair. It is an important hormone for muscle strength and stamina too.

I experienced menopausal symptoms a couple of years ago, despite only being 45 (the average age of the menopause in the UK is 51 years) so I started taking HRT which has really helped to improve my symptoms.

After I had been taking HRT for a few months I decided to have my testosterone levels done and was not totally surprised to find that my levels were low. However, I was surprised at my initial apprehension of using testosterone myself. One of the reasons for this uneasiness is that testosterone gel is currently not licensed for use in women in the UK. However, it is prescribed by many menopause experts (including me) as it has proven benefits in many clinical trials. It is also very safe.

After using the testosterone gel for around four months I noticed that my energy returned to higher levels than I thought possible, my concentration improved and I now do not need as much sleep as I used to. The sleep I do have is a lovely, deep uninterrupted sleep that I have not experienced for a few years. Even my yoga practice flows better and feels smoother.

It is hard to be frank and open about my relationship with my husband but I must admit that having sex is even more pleasurable!

How is testosterone given?

Testosterone is usually given as a gel to rub into the skin. Alternatively, testosterone may be given to some women as an implant.

It can take several months to work and it not effective for every woman. Younger women who have had an early menopause often notice benefits from using testosterone.

If you have had your ovaries removed by an operation, then it is very likely that your levels of testosterone will become low very quickly. This is because your ovaries produce the majority of testosterone in your body.

What are the side effects from using testosterone?

There are usually no side effects with testosterone treatment as it is given to replace the testosterone that you are otherwise lacking. Very occasionally women notice some increased hair growth in the area in which they have rubbed the gel. This can be avoided by changing the area of skin on which you rub the gel. As the dose is so low, testosterone used in this way does not increase a woman’s risk of developing facial hair.

 

Testosterone is not always effective for everyone but, for some women, it really can make a huge difference to their quality of life. Its effects should not be underestimated and clearly more work needs to be undertaken for testosterone to have a licence for its use in women. I certainly would not function nearly as well without it.

Last updated: February 2018

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