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Women's Health

Testosterone Level Doesn't Predict Low Libido

Measuring Male Sex Hormones in Women Has No Diagnostic Value
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The women completed questionnaires designed to assess sexual desire and arousal. They also provided blood samples, in which testosterone and the steroids androstenedione and DHEA sulfate were measured. These steroids are blood precursors to testosterone.

Neither testosterone nor androstenedione levels were found to have a correlation with sexual desire, arousal, pleasure, ability to achieve an orgasm, or sexual self-image.

Women under the age of 45 who reported low desire, responsiveness, and arousal were three to six times as likely to have low levels of DHEA sulfate as older women with low sexual function. But Davis says that measuring DHEA is not a useful diagnostic tool because many women with normal sexual function also had low levels of the steroid hormone.

Just 1 of Many Factors

Renown women's health expert and author Judith Reichman, MD, says she is not surprised that measuring blood levels of male sex hormones is of little diagnostic value.

Reichman is a gynecologist who practices at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her best-selling book I'm Not in the Mood addresses sex problems among women.

"I don't think anybody really believed that a blood test alone could predict libido," she tells WebMD. "All kinds of things can and do contribute to the problem, including medications, relationship issues, and stress. You can't just look at one thing and say, 'Ah ha, we've found it.'"

The FDA failed to approve a testosterone patch for the treatment of low libido late last year, but the hormone is nonetheless increasingly being prescribed to women who complain of low sex drive.

While it seems to help some women it isn't a panacea, Reichman says.

"I don't want women to get the idea that if they put on a testosterone patch or take a pill that they will feel like they did when they were 18," she says. "It just isn't that simple."

In addition there may be a risk of the development of side effects associated with testosterone treatment including acne excess body hair and other masculinizing effects, and cholesterol abnormalities.

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