Symptoms and Conditions Associated With Low and High Levels in Females
Medically reviewed by Kelly Wood, MD
Testosterone is commonly considered a male hormone but is present in female bodies too. People assigned female at birth need testosterone to make the female hormone estradiol. It is also essential for maintaining healthy bones and muscles and making new red blood cells.
Women do not usually experience low testosterone levels, but too-high levels may cause several symptoms, including acne, body and facial hair, balding, and a deeper voice.
This article will provide an overview of testosterone in women and what to do if your level is too high or too low.
Biological Function of Testosterone in Women
Testosterone is an essential hormone for each of us. In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat cells. The adrenal glands are organs on top of both kidneys that produce hormones.
Testosterone levels in women are usually highest in the morning and fall throughout the day. The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland control these levels.
The female body converts most testosterone to the female hormone estradiol. Testosterone is essential for:
While testosterone is usually considered a male hormone, it is essential for female health. The same goes for estrogen, a female hormone that is also produced in male bodies. A man’s estradiol levels vary widely; the normal male range is 28.0 to 156.0 pmol/L.
What Do Low Female Testosterone Levels Mean?
Female testosterone levels usually begin to rise in girls between 6 and 8. When girls have their first period (menarche), the ovaries produce testosterone cyclically. This means the levels change throughout the month based on one’s menstrual cycle. In women, testosterone levels peak mid-cycle and stay high during the luteal phase (last stage).
After a woman turns 30, testosterone levels begin to decrease, and women lose 60% of their total pool of testosterone by the time they reach menopause.
A low testosterone level is a lab value of less than 15 ng/dL of testosterone. Symptoms of low testosterone in women include:
Increased body fat
Low testosterone levels in women may be considered normal, depending on their age. Very low levels may be caused by a disorder of the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, or ovaries.
What Do High Female Testosterone Levels Mean?
Testosterone is an androgen hormone that stimulates the development of male characteristics. That means that women with a high testosterone level often experience physical changes associated with the male body. A normal testosterone range in women is 15 to 46 ng/dL during the reproductive years. Any value above 46 ng/dL is considered high.
Symptoms of high testosterone in women may include:
Excess facial and body hair
Hair loss on the top of the head
A common cause of high testosterone levels in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that causes the ovaries to produce too many androgens like testosterone. Other possible causes of high testosterone include adrenal or pituitary gland disorders and ovarian cancer.
There are three different ways to test your testosterone level, and a healthcare provider will recommend one based on your symptoms and overall health. Blood tests for testosterone include:
Total testosterone test: Measures the amount of free testosterone and testosterone attached to blood proteins (the most common type of test)
Free testosterone test: Measures the active form of testosterone in the blood
Bioavailable testosterone test: Measures free testosterone and testosterone that is attached to the protein albumin
Balancing Female Testosterone
It is possible to balance your testosterone levels. The treatment plan will depend on your hormone levels, the underlying cause, and overall health.
How to Raise Testosterone Levels
Low hormone levels are treated with hormone therapy (HT). Your healthcare provider may recommend testosterone therapy if you experience bothersome symptoms, such as a loss of sexual desire. However, testosterone treatment in women is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
One study found that taking testosterone may improve muscle strength and cognitive performance in postmenopausal women. However, taking testosterone may also increase the risk of heart disease.
How to Lower Testosterone Levels
A healthcare provider will likely recommend lifestyle changes to balance your high testosterone levels. A study of women considered overweight or obese found that losing weight through diet and exercise lowered their testosterone levels by 15.6%.
Lifestyle changes that can reduce your testosterone level include:
Weight loss (if overweight or obese)
A diet low in dairy and carbohydrates
If lifestyle changes do not improve your symptoms, your provider may recommend medication to lower your testosterone levels. Medical options include:
Birth control pill: Works by reducing the amount of testosterone produced in the ovaries
Antiandrogens: Block the effects of testosterone
Testosterone is an androgen (male hormone) present in both male and female bodies. People assigned female at birth need testosterone to produce estradiol, strengthen bones, build muscles, and make new blood cells.
Women with low testosterone levels may benefit from hormone therapy but should discuss the risks with their healthcare providers. Women with high levels of testosterone may be able to decrease their levels with lifestyle changes like weight loss, daily exercise, and diet modifications. A common cause of high testosterone in women is PCOS.