Androgens are believed to have an important biologic role in women, particularly in regulation of libido and sexual arousal, although much about their function on other systems in women is unknown.
Testosterone, the primary ovarian androgen, has been used to treat carefully selected postmenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). However, testosterone use in women has not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of uncertainties regarding the effectiveness and long-term safety of this strategy. An intravaginal form of the adrenal androgen, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has been approved by the FDA to treat genitourinary syndrome of menopause.
In this article, we review the current knowledge regarding the role of androgens and their clinical use in women. We conducted a systematic search of PubMed for publications describing the role and clinical use of androgens in women. We used the search terms “HSDD,” “DHEA in women,” “testosterone in women,” and “androgens in women,” and reviewed most references from all relevant articles.
Most randomized placebo-controlled trials show an improvement in sexual function with low-dose testosterone therapy in select postmenopausal women with HSDD. Although this strategy appears to be safe in the short term and no major safety concerns have emerged thus far, long-term effects on cardiovascular risk and breast cancer incidence are not known. A trial of low-dose testosterone therapy may be considered for carefully selected postmenopausal women with HSDD, as long as other contributors to sexual dysfunction have been adequately addressed.
However, patients need careful counseling regarding the lack of long-term safety data, and close clinical and laboratory monitoring of these women is recommended to avoid supraphysiologic dosing.