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Can Fam Physician. Sep 1999; 45: 2100–2107.
PMCID: PMC2328550
Androgen replacement for women.
R. Basson
OBJECTIVES: To determine whether a postmenopausal syndrome comprising specific changes in sexual desire and response associated with low free testosterone exists. To determine whether this syndrome is ameliorated by testosterone replacement. QUALITY OF EVIDENCE: Literature documenting that replacement of physiological levels of testosterone is beneficial and safe is scant. Only one randomized prospective blinded study examines sexual outcome in detail. MAIN MESSAGE: Testosterone is an important metabolic and sex hormone produced by the ovary throughout life. The variable reduction in ovarian testosterone production coincident with menopause is sometimes associated with a syndrome of specific changes in sexual desire and sexual response. Estrogen deficiency also impairs sexual response, but its replacement will not improve and might exacerbate sexual symptoms from androgen loss. Diagnosis of androgen deficiency is clinical, based on accurate assessment of a woman's sexual status before and after menopause and only confirmed (rather than diagnosed) by a low level of free testosterone. Partial androgen replacement restores much of the sexual response and facilitates sexual desire that is triggered by external cues. Avoiding supraphysiological levels of testosterone lessens risk of masculinization. Avoiding alkylated testosterone lessens hepatic or lipid impairment. CONCLUSION: Further prospective randomized studies of replacement of physiological levels of testosterone in women with androgen deficiency syndrome are needed, using formulations of testosterone available in Canada. The consistency of sexual changes, the associated personal and relationship distress, together with our clinical experience of the gratifying response to physiological replacement, make further studies urgently needed.
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