When we think about testosterone, we usually picture huge, muscly guys who stomp around in combat boots and eat ribeye steak for breakfast. But everyone produces testosterone naturally in their system, no matter their gender, sex, or size. Yep, that means you've got the hormone swimming around in your body, and it's meant to be there. However, the amount of testosterone cisgender women generally have differs from the amount cis men typically have. If your levels of this particular hormone increase and you start to see characteristics like excess facial hair growth, acne, or hair loss manifesting themselves, it's probably an indication that something else is going on underneath the surface that deserves attention.
Up to seven percent of cis women produce too much testosterone in their ovaries, and it's usually due to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Bustle spoke with Alyssa Dweck, M.D., gynecologist in New York, assistant clinical professor OBGYN at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and author of V is for Vagina, who says, “For some reason or another we are seeing a huge number of people being diagnosed with PCOS," she says. There are other potential causes of high testosterone levels, though, including adrenal disease, certain nutritional supplements, and a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia. You won't know for sure what category you fall into, if any at all, until you speak to your doctor and tell them what symptoms have been poking their way into your life.
Here are eight signs your body is producing too much testosterone.
1. You Have Persistent Acne
Dr. Dweck says "increased acne" is one of the biggest signs that your body is producing too much testosterone. She doesn't mean you have a couple extra zits on your face that are being a bit stubborn. Rather, she's talking about the kind of acne that's constant, visible, and no matter what you do, just won't go away. Acne that's related to PCOS is generally seen on the lower third of your face, around your chin, cheeks, and jawbone. The kind of pimples you're getting matters as well. If the zits are big knots that live below the surface of your skin instead of smaller bumps on the surface, you're probably harboring a testosterone imbalance.
2. There's Hair Growth On Your Face Or Chest
If you notice perceptible hairs showing up on your face, chin, or chest (pretty much anywhere cis men are traditionally known to have it), enough to where you feel like you need to start grooming, it may be time to ask your doctor to help you find out whether your testosterone levels are too high.
Many people with PCOS say this is the most upsetting side effect of having too much testosterone coursing through your body. Although it can be embarrassing at first, don't feel too shy to speak to a medical provider about it. They've seen it all before, and they're the ones who can help you.
3. You're Experiencing Hair Loss Or Balding
Put plain and simple, too much testosterone can easily result in your hair falling out suddenly. While most cis women normally have enough estrogen in their system to ward off baldness, if testosterone steals the show, that won't be the case.
4. You've Suddenly Gained Weight
Any time your hormones are imbalanced, your body will respond by rapidly gaining or losing weight. In this case, when there's an overload of testosterone, notable weight gain will be the warning sign. Hormonal changes can even cause you to crave foods that are high in fat and sugar, which can aid your ability to gain weight quickly.
5. Your Clitoris Seems Enlarged
Sounds weird and potentially fun, but a clitoris that has tangibly grown in size from what it normally looks like is a surefire sign that there's an excess amount of testosterone traveling through your body. This isn't so much seen in patients with PCOS as it is in those with a tumor in their adrenal glands or ovaries, which can cause high levels of testosterone. Don't worry, it's not something that will stay that way forever; with the proper treatment, it should reduce back down to its normal size.
6. Your Voice Has Gotten Deeper
Just like facial and chest hair, a suddenly deepening voice is a trait that, when appearing in cisgender women, could reveal an abnormal amount of testosterone. You may not be able to hear it yourself, so if someone you trust in your life points it out to you, don't hesitate to get checked out by your doctor.
7. You've Experienced A Significant Increase In Sex Drive
Hypersexuality or a "crazy high libido," as Dr. Dweck says, could be caused by too much testosterone. If you notice a significant shift in your sex drive, one that makes you frisky at all hours of the day, you might want to get your testosterone levels checked.
8. You're Often Irritable Or Aggressive
In some cases, Dr. Dweck tells Bustle that cis women with high levels of testosterone may exhibit odd changes in their day-to-day personality. Sudden aggression, acute irritability, and lack of impulse control are possible side effects that come from having too much testosterone, which are very similar to what cis teenage boys experience when their testosterone levels increase as they're transitioning into adulthood.
The Bottom Line
Above all, remember that excess levels of testosterone in your body can totally be treated. Dr. Dweck insists that this is "yet another way that birth control pills are helpful and beneficial other than just birth control." Getting rid of all these uncomfortable symptoms might be as simple as getting the right prescription of contraception in your hands. Before you come to any quick conclusions, though, schedule an appointment with your doctor, and see how they can give you peace of mind.
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