In other cases, it can be treated with lifestyle changes such as efforts to lose excess weight and exercise more.
While testosterone therapy has yet to be approved for women in the United States, some doctors do prescribe it off-label to treat sexual problems and other symptoms associated with low testosterone in women.
When an underlying medical condition is causing or contributing to "low T," treating that condition can return the testosterone level to normal.
Testosterone can be delivered to the body in a variety of ways:
- Injections into a muscle can be given every few weeks, either by a medical professional or by self-injection.
- Patches or gels containing testosterone can be applied to the skin daily.
- A tablet-shaped patch known as a buccal system can be applied in the mouth where the upper gum meets the inside of the lip. The patch is changed every 12 hours.
- Testosterone pellets are a newer form of treatment. The pellets are inserted under the skin of the buttocks, where they release testosterone for three to four months.
Men and women who are being treated with testosterone need to have follow-up blood tests to assess how they're responding to treatment.
Testosterone Therapy Risks
When used to treat male hypogonadism, a condition in which the body is unable to produce normal amounts of testosterone because of a problem with the testicles or the pituitary gland, testosterone replacement therapy is rarely associated with serious side effects.
However, in boys with delayed puberty, the treatment can cause the bones to stop growing and fuse prematurely, resulting in short stature as an adult.
Bone development must therefore be checked every six months with x-rays in adolescents receiving testosterone.
When testosterone is used to raise testosterone levels in men with age-related low testosterone, it comes with a number of risks, including:
- Accelerated growth of existing prostate cancer
- Acne or other skin problems
- Enlarged breasts
- Increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot forming in a vein that is deep within the body)
- Increased risk of heart attack or stoke
- Low sperm production
- Noncancerous prostate growth (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH)
- Worsened sleep apnea
FDA Safety Warning
In March 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety alert regarding the use of testosterone in men whose low-T levels are due to the normal aging process, not hypogonadism or other health conditions.
"FDA has become aware that testosterone is being used extensively in attempts to relieve symptoms in men who have low testosterone for no apparent reason other than aging," the FDA safety alert stated.
"Healthcare professionals should prescribe testosterone therapy only for men with low testosterone levels caused by certain medical conditions and confirmed by laboratory tests," the FDA statement added.
"Patients using testosterone should seek medical attention immediately if symptoms of a heart attack or stroke are present, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, weakness in one part or one side of the body, or slurred speech."
Risks to Women and Children
The risks of testosterone therapy for women with low testosterone are largely unknown.
Among some doctors, there is concern (but no conclusive evidence) that it may raise the risk of breast cancer.
It's not safe to use testosterone during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.
Testosterone therapy in men also has risks for women and children if they come into contact with testosterone gel (or other topical products) on a man's skin or on clothes, towels, or surfaces he has touched.
Children, in particular, are at risk of developing male secondary sexual characteristics — such as enlarged genitals, growth of pubic hair, increased sex drive, and aggressive behavior — if exposed to testosterone drugs.
Children who are exposed to testosterone may also experience advanced bone aging, possibly causing them to stop growing prematurely.
Women who come into contact with testosterone may develop irregular menstrual periods, increased acne, body hair growth, male-pattern baldness, or other male characteristics.
Because testosterone can cause birth defects, pregnant women must be very careful to avoid contact with it and to wash their skin thoroughly with soap and water if they think they've contacted any testosterone preparations.
Contraindications are reasons not to take a certain drug or other therapy. The following are contraindications to testosterone therapy:
- Breast cancer
- Known or suspected prostate cancer
- Heart, liver, or kidney disease
Ask your doctor if you have a condition that contraindicates the use of testosterone.
Natural Ways to Boost Testosterone
Losing excess weight and being physically active can raise a man's testosterone level.
Any form of exercise done regularly can help, but weight training and other forms of resistance exercise have the biggest effects.
Researchers have found that men who lost weight on a very-low-calorie diet, and maintained their weight loss for 12 months, had sustained increases in testosterone.
Men who had bariatric (weight-loss) surgery have also experienced significant increases in testosterone levels.
Even moderate weight loss helps: Middle-aged obese men who lost modest weight while following a diet and exercise program had modest increases in testosterone level, according to one study.
Last Updated: 2/23/2015