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What Causes High Testosterone In Women? (Science-Based) 

Christiana Mikesch
Published by Christiana Mikesch
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 8, 2022

Although women only require a small ratio of testosterone compared to men(1:10 or 1:20), the primary sex hormone still plays a vital role in their bodies.

Low testosterone in women can lead to low sex drive and mood swings, and if testosterone levels rise excessively, their physical appearance might deteriorate. So, maintaining normal testosterone levels is crucial for your health.

To help you understand how to normalize your T levels, we've done extensive research into what causes high testosterone and the available treatment options.

Quick Summary

  • Symptoms of high testosterone in women include unusual hair growth, irregular menstrual cycles, mood changes, obesity, and infertility.
  • After making a diagnosis, your doctor will recommend medications based on your underlying cause.
  • The most common causes of testosterone hormonal imbalance in women are polycystic ovarian syndrome and diabetes or insulin resistance.

What Happens When Women Have High Testosterone Levels?

woman measuring her belly fat

When women have high testosterone concentrations, their physical appearance and overall health may deteriorate.

The most common high-testosterone symptoms in women include: 

  • Unwanted body hair
  • Acne
  • Balding
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Deepening of voice
  • Decreased breast size
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Irregular menstrual cycles

Causes of High Testosterone Levels in Women

woman experiencing belly cramps and another with thyroid pain

Possible causes of testosterone imbalances in women are:

1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries. Its leading cause isn't well known, but scientists believe environmental and genetic factors play a part [1].

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome produce excess testosterone, which leads to increased risk of health problems such as infrequent menstrual flow, excess hair growth, obesity, and acne.

Treatment options for PCOS include taking birth control pills, metformin to prevent diabetes, statins to reduce high cholesterol, and hormones to increase fertility.

2. Diabetes

According to scientists, there's a well-established link between blood pressure and testosterone levels. In men, diabetes can reduce testosterone and vice versa.

In women, diabetes can lead to high testosterone levels [2]. This is caused by excess sugar in your diet; think white bread, rice, yogurt, pasta, and alcohol.

You should eat more nutritious foods, reduce alcohol consumption, and exercise to lower sugar levels. Any kind of exercise can improve your insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels.

3. Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia

woman holding a kidney sample near her stomach

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia comprises a group of genetic disorders that affect your adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys.

The condition mainly occurs in children, and although it's life-threatening, you can overcome it with proper treatment.

Symptoms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia include enlarged penis in men and ambiguous genitalia in women.

If a child isn't treated early, they can produce excess testosterone from the adrenal glands, increasing male sex hormones in girls [3].

Some treatment options you can opt for include taking steroids, treating hormone-sensitive cancers through chemotherapy, or performing surgery to treat genital abnormalities.

4. Hirsutism

Hirsutism is a medical condition that leads to excess male-pattern dark body hair growth on a woman's face, chest, neck, and back [4].

The leading causes are inherited genetics and excess androgen hormone levels. Treatment options include medicine that eliminates extra water in the body, anti-diabetic medication, and enzyme inhibitors.

You can also use heat from a laser to damage hair follicles and electrolysis to remove unwanted hair.

5. Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism is a medical condition that makes your thyroid glands produce insufficient hormone levels. During the early stages, it's mild and difficult to notice.

Insufficient thyroid gland hormones can affect your heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism. Symptoms you might notice include cold sensitivity, constipation, and weight gain.

Also, hypothyroidism can lead to high testosterone levels in women. And it lowers female sex hormone-binding globulin, a protein that distributes testosterone throughout the body [5].

Medical professionals can treat hypothyroidism by replacing thyroid hormones.

6. Insulin Resistance

using syringe on her stomach

Insulin resistance occurs when your muscles and liver cells don't typically respond to insulin, resulting in increased blood sugar.

It can lead to type-2 diabetes, obesity, hirsutism, and lipodystrophy with time.

Postmenopausal women with type-2 diabetes can release too much testosterone from adrenal glands [6].

Treatment options for reduced insulin sensitivity include exercising and eating a low-carb diet.

7. Dwarfism and Gigantism

Dwarfism is a short stature that mainly results from genetic mutations that affect bone growth. The average height of people with dwarfism is usually four feet.

Gigantism occurs when the pituitary tumor cells release excess growth hormones leading to abnormal body growth. Some symptoms of gigantism include thickened facial features, uncommon tall stature, irregular menstrual cycle, and delayed puberty.

According to scientists, dwarfism can cause reduced insulin sensitivity, while gigantism can cause the increased release of testosterone and other sex hormones [7].

Available treatment options include surgery, medication to shrink the tumor or stop excess hormone growth, and gamma knife radiosurgery.

Diagnosing and Treatment of High Testosterone in Women

medical doctor on his table

If you notice symptoms like excess body hair growth, irregular mental cycles, low libido, and mood changes, you might have too much testosterone [8].

You should talk to your doctor so they can perform a physical examination based on your symptoms to find out if you need additional blood tests.

Doctors often test for testosterone levels when your levels are highest in the morning. They'll treat high testosterone based on your underlying cause.

Some rare medical conditions can produce in females testosterone levels well into the adult male range. Such exposure will produce the androgenic effect on muscle and bone development which sports physiologists recognise to be advantageous in highly competitive events. - Prof Ieuan Hughes, Pediatric Endocrinologist and Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics, University of Cambridge

If you’re experiencing high testosterone symptoms, some medications your physician might recommend include: 

  • Eflornithine, which is applied to the skin to slow the growth of facial hair
  • Glucocorticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Metformin to treat diabetes
  • Progestin to regulate menstrual periods and improve fertility
  • Spironolactone to regulate body water levels and reduce hair growth

Testosterone levels typically decline if you take oral contraceptives. However, they may not be best for women who're trying to get pregnant.

FAQs

Can Stress Cause High Testosterone Levels in Females?

Yes, during the initial stages of stress, especially in dominant individuals experiencing chronic stress, the body might increase testosterone release.

How Much Testosterone Does an Average Woman Have?

An average women’s testosterone levels range from 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter of blood.

Final Thoughts on Causes of High Testosterone in Women

Excess male hormones in women can cause severe and unwanted health complications, and you should visit your doctor if you notice any symptoms listed above.

There are many causes of high testosterone levels.

Once your doctor identifies your underlying cause, they'll recommend medication to cure the problem.

Although self-treatment is possible through exercising and removing unwanted hair, it's good to follow your doctor's prescription first.


References:

    1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439
    2. https://www.technologynetworks.com/genomics/news/high-testosterone-in-women-linked-to-type-2-diabetes-330556
    3. https://www.yourhormones.info/endocrine-conditions/congenital-adrenal-hyperplasia/
    4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hirsutism/symptoms-causes/syc-20354935
    5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14558918/
    6. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/94/12/4776/2596564
    7. https://www.yourhormones.info/endocrine-conditions/gigantism/
    8. https://cfvanderloos.com/signs-of-high-testosterone-in-women/

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