Testosterone is not approved by Health Canada's Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) for treating sexual problems in women. At this time, there is no testosterone pill, patch, or cream approved for women in Canada. 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.
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 till it is half as high in her 40s.2
Testosterone therapy raises testosterone levels in the body. But testosterone is only TPD-approved for use in men.
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:
Do not take testosterone if you:2
There is not strong enough evidence to support the use of testosterone for improving menopausal symptoms.2 But for women who no longer have ovaries (or whose ovaries are not working), testosterone with estrogen therapy has been shown to increase sexual desire.1
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.3
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.
In women, long-term testosterone side effects have not been studied. Experts know that:
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.2
The goal of testosterone treatment is to raise a woman's testosterone level no higher than what is normal for a young woman. All current testosterone products are made for dosing in men. There is not yet a standard dose or blood test for women, so dosing is adjusted based on your symptoms. You are taking a dose that is too high if you have:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
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 are processed through the liver when taken by mouth but not when they are taken through the skin.2 At this time, there are no such TPD-approved testosterone products for women.
Some women go to a compounding pharmacist for bioidentical hormone remedies.
Many other supplements may interact with testosterone. Be sure to tell your doctor about any non-prescription medicines, supplements, or herbs you are taking.
An overdose of androgens may cause seizures, hepatitis, problems with blood clot formation, or other serious health problems. Taking DHEA and testosterone together may be dangerous. (DHEA is an androgenic dietary supplement that is derived from the wild yam. It is also called prasterone in the United States. DHEA is not available in Canada.)
Testosterone should not be taken during pregnancy, because it affects a growing fetus. If you use testosterone and could become pregnant, use highly effective birth control.
- Drugs for female sexual dysfunction (2007). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 49(1259): 33–35.
- North American Menopause Society (2005). The role of testosterone therapy in postmenopausal women: Position statement of the North American Menopause Society. Menopause, 12(5): 497–511.
- Shifren JL (2004). The role of androgens in female sexual dysfunction. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 79(Suppl): S19–S24.
- Basaria S, Dobs AS (2004). Safety and adverse effects of androgens: How to counsel patients. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 79(Suppl): S25–S32.
- North American Menopause Society (2004). Treatment of menopause-associated vasomotor symptoms: Position statement of the North American Menopause Society. Menopause, 11(1): 11–33.
Last Revised: April 23, 2012
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.